The adult of the nominate European subspecies is 40-50 cm (16-20 in) long with a 77-85 cm (30-33 in) wingspan, and weighs 692-925 g. In breeding plumage, it has a black cap below the eye, very pale grey cheeks and throat, a rusty red neck, dark grey back and flanks, and white underparts. The eyes are dark brown and the long, pointed bill is black with a yellow base. The winter plumage is duskier than that of other grebes. Its dark grey cap is less defined, and merges into the grey face, and a pale crescent that curves around the rear of the face contrasts with the rest of the head. The front of the neck is light grey. Both sexes are similar.

Habitat and Distribution

They prefer waters in forested areas or, further north, in shrub tundra. The best breeding habitat is fish-ponds, which have an abundance of food. The American subspecies is less tied to a high aquatic plant density, and sometimes breeds on quite open lakes. All populations are migratory and winter mainly at sea, usually in estuaries and bays. They breed from southern Sweden and Denmark, central and eastern Europe east to western Siberia, and wintering in the North and Baltic Seas.


The Red-necked grebe feeds mainly on invertebrates including adult and larval aquatic insects, such as water beetles and dragonfly larvae, crayfish and molluscs. Fish (such as smelt) may be important locally or seasonally.


The nest is a floating platform of plant matter anchored to submerged or emergent vegetation. Egg-laying mainly takes place from mid-April to May in Europe, and from mid-May to June, in North America. The Red-necked grebe lays four or five dull white or pale blue eggs. Parents take turns to incubate the eggs for 21-33 days until the precocial downy chicks hatch.

Calls and Songs

It has a loud, wailing or howling display call uooooh, given by a single bird or a pair in duet, by night or during the day, and often from cover. A great variety of quacking, clucking, hissing, rattling and purring calls are also given.