Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) synchronies egg laying with protective species

  • Elmira Zaynagutdinova Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of Biology, Saint Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab., 7–9, Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation
  • Yuriy Mikhailov Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of Biology, Saint Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab., 7–9, Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation


Great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus) are opportunistic breeders nesting in colonies or solitarily in different biotopes with varying nesting dates in different circumstances. On the northern coast of the Neva Bay in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, great crested grebes breed solitarily, in colonies situated in reed beds and in a colony on the open water in direct vicinity of a colony of black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) and black terns (Chlidonias niger). In the vicinity of the larid colony, grebes profit from the protecting behaviour of gulls and terns in a similar way as they do in their mixed colonies with larids. Despite the fact that small larids have a shorter incubation period than great crested grebes, the latter synchronize their beginning of incubation with the gulls and terns. The incubation of all three species in two adjoining open-water colonies started on the same dates. The incubation of grebes nesting in the reed beds began significantly later. The average clutch sizes did not differ significantly between the colonies situated on the open water near larids and those in the reeds. The average lowest distances between the nests of great crested grebes in the open water colony were larger than in the reed bed colonies. The ability to synchronize the beginning of incubation with a small protecting species helps great crested grebes to occupy otherwise unsafe habitats.


waterfowl, protective nesting associations, reed, clutch size, distance between nests, nesting dates, black-headed gull, black tern


Download data is not yet available.


Alberico, J. A. R., Reed, J. M., and Oring, L. W. 1991. Nesting near a Common Tern colony increases and decreases Spotted Sandpiper nest predation. Auk 108:904–910.

Ar, A. and Rahn, H. 1980. Water in the avian egg: overall budget of incubation. American Zoology 20:273–384.

Bourget, A. A. 1973. Relation of eiders and gulls nesting in mixed colonies in Penobscot-Bay, Maine. Auk 90:809–820.

Bukacińska, M., Bukaciński, D., and Jabkonski, P. 1993. Colonial and noncolonial great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus) at Lake Luknajno: nest site characteristics, clutch size and egg biometry. Colonial Waterbirds 16:111–118.

Burger, J. 1974. Determinants of colony and nest-site selection in the Silver Grebe (Podiceps occipitales) and Rolland's Grebe (Rollandia rolland). The Condor 76(3):301–306.

Burger, J. 1984. Grebes nesting in gull colonies: protective associations and early warning. The American Naturalist 123(3):327–337.

Burger, J. 1995. Nest site selection by Eared Grebes in a Franklin's Gull colony: structural stability parasites. The Condor 97(2):577–580.

Chukhareva, I. P. and Kharitonov, S. P. 2009. O prostranstvennoy strukture polividovykh koloniy, osnovannykh chaykovymi ptitsami, na vodoyemakh yuzhnogo Zaural'ya [On the spatial structure of mixed colonies initiated by gulls on water bodies of the Southern Transurals]. Povolzjskyi Ecological Journal 3:238–248.

Cramp, S. and Simmons, E. L. (eds.) 1977. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Vol. 1. Oxford.

Dementiev, G. P. and Gladkov, N. A. 1951. Ptitsy Sovetskogo Soyuza [Birds of the Soviet Union]. Vol. 1. Sovetskaya Nauka, Moscow.

Farner, D. S. and King, J. R. 2013. Avian Biology, Vol. 2. Elsevier. Nature.

Fjeldså, J. 2004. The Grebes. Oxford University Press.

de Fouw, J., Bom, R. A., Klaassen, R. H. G., Müskens, G. J. D. M., de Vries, P. P., Popov, I. Y., Kokorev, Y. I., Ebbinge, B. S., and Nolet, B. A. 2016. Breeding in a den of thieves: pros and cons of nesting close to egg predators. Ecosphere 7(6):1–12. e01353.

Goc, M. 1986. Colonial versus territorial breeding of the great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus on Lake Druzno. Acta Ornithologica 22(2):95–145.

Golovina, N. M. 2012. Vliyaniye koloniy chaykovykh na raspolozheniye gnozd vodoplavayushchikh i okolovodnykh ptits [Effect of colonies gulls and terns on the location of nests of water birds]. The Russian Journal of Ornithology 21(760):1197–1198.

van der Graaf, A. J., Stahl, J., Klimkowska, A., Bakker, J. P., and Drent, R. H. 2006. Surfing on a green wave — how plant growth drives spring migration in the Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis. Ardea 94(3):567–577.

Hays, H. and LeCroy, M. 1971. Field criteria for determining incubation stage in eggs of the common tern. The Wilson Bulletin 83(4):425–429.

Hramtsov, V. N., Kovaleva, T. V., and Natsvaladze, N. U. (eds.). 2013. Atlas osobo okhranyayemykh prirodnykh territoriy Sankt-Peterburga. [Atlas of Protected Areas of Saint-Petersburg]. Marafon. Saint-Petersburg.

Iljichev, V. D. and Flint, V. E. (eds.) 1982. Ptitsy SSSR. Istoriya issledovaniy Gaviiformes, Podicipediformes, Procellariiformes. [Birds of USSR. The history of study. Gaviiformes, Podicipediformes, Procellariiformes]. Moscow. Science.

Ivanov, A. I., Kozlova, E. V., Portenko, L. A., and Tugarinov, A. Ja. 1953. Ptitsy SSSR [Birds of USSR]. Printing House of Academy of Science of USSR. Moscow, Leningrad.

van de Kam, J., Ens, B., Piersma, T., and Zwarts, L. 2004. Shorebirds. An Illustrated Behavioural Ecology. KNNV Publishers: Utrecht, Netherlands.

Kharitonov S. P., Volkov, A. E., Willems, F., van Kleef, H., Klaassen, R. H. G., Nowak, D. J., Nowak, A. I., and Bublichenko, A. G. 2008. Brent goose colonies near snowy owls: Internest distances in relation to abundance of lemmings and arctic foxes. Biology Bulletin 35(3):270–278.

Klimov, S. M., Melnicov, M. V., and Zemlyanukhin, A. I. 2000. Ptitsy basseyna Verkhnego Dona: Podicipediformes, Ciconiiformes, Phoenicopteriformes. [The birds of the Upper Don basin: Podicipediformes, Ciconiiformes, Phoenicopteriformes]. The Russian Journal of Ornithology 116:3–17.

Konter, A. 2005. Annual building-up of great crested grebe colonies: an example from the Dutch IJsselmeer. Waterbirds 28:351–358.[0351:ABOGCG]2.0.CO;2

Konter, A. 2008. Seasonal evolution of colonial breeding in the Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus: a four years’ study at Lake IJssel. Ardea 96(1):13–24.

Malchevsky, Yu. S. and Pukinsky, Yu. B. 1983. Ptitsy Leningradskoy oblasti i sopredel'nykh territoriy [Birds of Leningrad Region and adjacent territories]. Vol. 1. Publishing House of Leningrad University.

Melde, M. 1973. Der Haubentaucher. [The Great crested grebe]. Wittenberg Lutherstadt.

Menshikova, S. V. 2005. Vodoplavayushchiye i okolovodnyye ptitsy Ropshinskikh prudov (Leningradskaya oblast'). [Waterfowl and shorebirds of the Ropshinsky ponds (Leningrad region)]. The Russian Journal of Ornithology 14(284):291–309.

Noskov, G. A. and Botch, M. S. (eds.). 1999. Krasnaia kniga prirody Leningradskoi oblasti. T. 1. Osobo okhraniaemye prirodnye territorii. [Red Data Book of Nature of the Leningrad Region. Vol. 1. Protected Areas]. St. Petersburg.

Piersma, T. 2006. Migration in the balance: tight ecological margins and the changing fortunes of shorebird populations; pp. 74–80. in Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A., and Stroud, D.A. (eds.). Waterbirds Around the World. The Stationary Office: Edinburgh, UK.

Prop, J. and de Vries, J. 1993. Impact of snow and food conditions on the reproductive performance of Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis. Ornis Scandinavica (Scandinavian Journal of Ornithology) 24(2):110–121.

Quinn, J. L., Prop, J., Kokorev, Y., and Black J. M. 2003. Predator protection or similar habitat selection in red-breasted goose nesting associations: extremes along a continuum. Animal Behaviour 65:297–307.

Quinn, J. L. and Ueta, M. 2008. Protective nesting associations in birds. Ibis 150 (Suppl. 1):146–167.

Reiter, M. E., Andersen, D. E. 2008. Comparison of the egg flotation and egg candling techniques for estimating incubation day of Canada Goose nests. Journal of Field Ornithology 79(4):429–437.

Richardson, D. S. and Bolen, G. M. 1999. A nesting association between semi-colonial Bullock’s orioles and yellow-billed magpies: evidence for the predator protection hypothesis. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 46:373–380.

Rjabitsev, V. K. Ptitsy Urala, Priural'ya i Zapadnoy Sibiri: Spravochnik-opredelitel'. [Birds of Ural, Priuralje and West Siberia: Guide]. Yekaterinburg: Printing House of Ural University.

Simmons, K. E. L. 1974. Adaptations in the reproductive biology of the Great Crested Grebe. British birds 67:413–444.

Stanevičius, V. 2001. Impact of air temperature and breeding habitat quality on the beginning of the breeding season in great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus). Acta Zoologica Lituanica 11(2):183–193.

Stanevičius, V. 2002. Nest-site selection by coot and great-crested grebe in relation to structure of halophytes. Acta Zoologica Lituanica 12(3):265–275.

Tolchin, V. A. 2011. O gnezdovanii chomgi Podiceps cristatus v Vostochnoy Sibiri. [On breeding of the great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) in Eastern Siberia]. The Russian Journal of Ornithology 20(708):2370–2371.

Ueta, M. 1994. Azure-winged magpies, Cyanopica cyana, ‘parasitize’ nest defence provided by Japanese lesser sparrowhawks, Accipiter gularis. Animal Behaviour 48:871–874.

Ulfvens, J. 1988. Comparative breeding ecology of the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) and the Great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus): archipelago versus lake habitat. Acta Zoologica Fennica 183:1–75.

Ulfvens, J. 1989. Offshore breeding in the Great Creasted Grebe Podiceps cristatus: two offsore areas examined in relation to an inshore in western Finland. Ornis Fennica 66:112–116.

Vogrin, M. 2002. Breeding success of Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus on fishponds. Ornis Svecica 12:203–210.

Wheelwright, N. T., Lawler, J. J., and Weinstein, J. H. 1997. Nestsite selection in savannah sparrows: using gulls as scarecrows? Animal Behaviour 53:197–208.

Wilson, J. R., Nebel S., and Minton, C. D. T. 2007. Migration ecology and morphometries of two Bar-tailed Godwit populations in Australia, Emu. Austral Ornithology 107(4):262–274.

How to Cite
Zaynagutdinova, E., & Mikhailov, Y. (2019). Great Crested Grebe (<em>Podiceps cristatus</em&gt;) synchronies egg laying with protective species. Biological Communications, 64(1), 11–19.
Full communications