Little Grebe

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Tachybaptus ruficollis

  • SWAHILI NAME: Kibisi

Little grebes are expert swimmers, divers—and entrancing dancers. Their courting display is a ballet. The two birds tread water face-to-face, waving water weeds in their bills, then skim rapidly across the water, side by side, bodies upright, calling loudly.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe



Daily Rhythm




Conservation Status

Lower risk


11.5 in (29 cm) long

Little Grebe

Listen to the sounds of the Little Grebe

Trivia Question

How does a little grebe react when threatened by a predator, such as an eagle, a heron, or a clawless otter?


It dives under the water. Little grebes are quite helpless on land. They will tip over if they attempt to run because their feet are so far back on their bodies.

Social Structure

Little grebes are usually found in pairs or family groups.


The little grebe’s call sounds like the whinnying of a horse.


The little grebe lives on the water, spending the day paddling around in search of food. Little grebes rarely waddle onto land. If they have to run, they usually tip over because their feet are so far back on their bodies.


Little grebes feed mostly on insects, larvae, and small fish. They also dine on frogs, tadpoles, small crustaceans, and mollusks.


Little grebes build a floating nest of vegetation anchored to submerged water plants. The female lays four to six eggs. Parents take turns incubating the eggs for 19 to 28 days. The newly hatched chicks quickly swim away from the nest, climbing onto their parents’ backs to rest. The parents feed them for about 29 day, often giving them feathers, which form a stomach barrier against sharp bones in the fish they consume. After about a month, the chicks start foraging on their own, becoming independent in about 42 days.

Friends & Foes

When threatened by predators—tawny eagles, herons, and Cape clawless otters—little grebes react by diving rather than flying.

Population in Kenya

In Kenya, little grebes inhabit freshwater and alkaline lakes from sea level to 9,800 feet (3,000 m).

Range & Habitat

Little grebes are found in water habitats throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They find sites around dams, on lakes and small ponds. They may also choose temporary backwaters, or even puddles in sluggish watercourses.

Did you know?

The little grebe is also called a dabchick—the only bird name that has the first three letters of the alphabet in a row.