(2290) Podiceps cristatus cristatus.
The Great Crested Grebe.
Colymbus cristatus Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed., i, p. 135 (1758) (Sweden). Podiceps cristatus. Blanf. & Oates. iv, p. 473.
Vernacular names. Shiva-Hans (Assam).
Description. Forehead, crown and crest black; a line from the eye to the gape blackish; lores and sides of the head, chin and throat white, sometimes tinged rufous on the upper parts next the crown; the white changes to deep rufous on the base of the collar and this again to black on the longest feathers of the ruff; back of neck and upper plumage dark brown; outer scapulars white, sometimes mixed with rufous; lesser wing-coverts brown, often much mottled with rufous; other coverts, primaries and inner secondaries dark brown; outer secondaries white, those next the dark inner secondaries sometimes marked with rufous-brown;, lower plumage silky white; sides of breast and flanks mottled, brown and rufous ; axillaries and under wing-coverts white.
Colours of soft parts. Iris carmine-red, crimson with a narrow inner ring of orange or orange with an inner ring of pale yellow; bill dark brown, the tip paler and slaty-grey, the extreme base suffused with crimson, obsolete in Winter; legs and feet olive-green externally, yellowish-green inside ; webs yellowish, the nails bluish.
Measurements. Wing 176 to 211 mm.; tarsus 52 to 64 mm.; culmen 45 to 53 mm. (Very few skins in the British Museum collection are properly sexed and it is therefore impossible to show to what extent the sexes differ in size.)
Young birds have no crest or ruff; the upper parts are pale brown, each feather edged paler; the flanks are much less marked with brown and the rufous is absent or obsolete ; the rufous on the head is replaced with white.
In an intermediate stage the ruff is indicated by longer feathers on the throat and fore-neck, mixed white and rufous at the base and blackish at the tips ; the crest does not appear until the ruff is well advanced.
Nestling. Head and neck striped black and white, the stripes on the head broken and with a cross line over the crown; back striped blackish-brown and buffy-white ; underparts white ; wings brownish-black.
Distribution. Breeding over the greater part of Europe and throughout Northern and Central Asia to the Himalayas ; Northern Africa, where it is resident. Northern birds migrate South in Winter to the Mediterranean countries, Northern Africa, Mesopotamia and Northern India.
In India it only occurs in the North. It is said to be not uncommon along the sea-coast; it breeds in Kashmir, though rarely and in great numbers in Ladak and Tibet. It is found in the Cold Weather in Oude, Behar, Bengal and Assam and a few pairs remain to breed. In Burma it seems to be rare but Oates obtained a specimen in Myitkyina and Harington another near Bhamo.
Nidification. In Europe the Crested Grebe breeds from May to July and often several nests may be found on the same piece of water, whilst in Ladak and Tibet it breeds in colonies, many birds placing their nests within a few feet of one another. In one place on the Hram-Tso Lake, Ludlow mentions finding on the 7th of July a colony of about fifty pairs, in addition to which there were several other colonies on the same lake. The nest is a mass of rush-leaves and weeds, semi-floating on the water and partially supported by growing reeds and floating plants. The bird leaves the nest at the slightest sign of danger, quickly covering the eggs with weeds and then sliding gently into the water, not reappearing until she has dived some hundred yards or so from the nest. When thus left the nest looks like a wind-blown pile of rubbish and would certainly escape the attention of the uninitiated.
Its breeding in the plains of India seems to be irregular. It certainly breeds in the plains of Assam, North of the Brahmapootra ; some years two or three pairs may be seen in June, July and August, whilst in other years not a bird is to be found. It has been recorded as breeding in Karachi, Oude and the Doab, but all these instances seem to be abnormal and have not recurred. The eggs number three or four, rarely five, though six or nine have been recorded. They are white with a chalky, porous texture and very soon become soiled and discoloured, eggs that have been some time in the nest becoming wholly brown, whilst others become brown on one side, remaining white on the other. Jourdain gives the average of one hundred British eggs as 54.8 x 36.7 mm.: maxima 62.7 x 37.8 and 46.5 x 39.0 mm.; minima 46.5 x 39.0 and 55.3 x 34.0.
Habits. The Crested Grebes prefer wide stretches of water in marshes, lakes or the actual sea, being seldom seen in small pools or village ponds and only on rivers whilst migrating. They are comparatively common birds in the huge swamps of Assam, keeping for the most part to open water, where they spend their time diving after fish. They also eat frogs, water-insects, larvae etc. and, like all Grebes, swallow a number of their own feathers, possibly as an aid to digestion, instead of grit. They are extraordinarily expert divers, staying under water longer than Pochards, progressing faster and diving for greater distances. On the wing they fly fairly well when once started but before rising paddle along the top of the water for a long distance. As a means of escape they prefer diving to flying and to hit a Grebe as it shows its head for a second above water requires a smart shot. On land they normally move by pushing themselves along on their breasts. They are loth, however to resort to land at all, though very occasionally they may be seen basking on a bank. Their cry is a harsh " krek-krek," whilst in the courting-season they utter a sort of bark as well as a hoarse croak.