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New study reveals Slavonian grebes’ breeding must-haves

12 January 2012

Louise Smith
Media and Communications Officer

Stopping the introduction of pike into Scottish lochs could help ensure the future of one of Scotland’s rarest birds, according to research by RSPB Scotland.

The study, led by RSPB and part funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, looked at what factors influence breeding Slavonian grebes to choose certain lochs to raise young.

It found that the moderately sized lochs with an abundance of small fish (sticklebacks and minnows) to feed on, clear water to hunt fish and plenty of nesting habitat were most suitable for the species.

It also revealed that lochs containing pike had fewer small fish, which are a valuable food source for grebes.

The Slavonian grebe only began breeding in the UK in 1908; its population today remains restricted to northern Scotland where latest counts have shown only 29 breeding pairs remain.

Conservationists hope a better understanding of species, particularly during the breeding season, could help determine what measures are needed to reverse the population decline.

Ron Summers, RSPB Scotland’s Principal Conservation Scientist said “The Slavonian grebe is still a relative newcomer to the UK and as such we have much to learn about its behaviour and factors affecting its population size. This research helps us understand what kind of conditions are suitable for grebes when raising young. In this way, we can help ensure suitable habitat is maintained and that the species isn’t competing against others, such as pike, for food. By considering these measures we stand a better chance of improving breeding success in the future.”

Tim Dawson, SNH South Highlands area officer, added :"We'd all like to make sure these striking birds not only remain in the Highlands, but also increase their small numbers. This study is an important first step, giving us information on how to help protect these vulnerable birds."


  • Slavonian grebes are strong swimmers and build their nests in sedge beds. They arrive back in Scotland in March/April and leave in autumn.


  • Slavonian grebes are best recognised by their colourful summer plumage and trilling calls. Both males and females have golden ear tufts, black faces and deep red eyes.


  • Around half of the UK population of Slavonian grebes breed at Loch Ruthven. The RSPB has a nature reserve at the eastern end of the loch. In the spring and summer, it is possible to get excellent views of displaying grebes in front of the hide.


  • The study is titled and authored: Ron W. Summers, Roddy A. Mavor, Sandra Hogg & Ron Harriman 2011  Lake characteristics and their selection by breeding Slavonian grebes Podicpes auritus in Scotland Bird Study 58, 349-356.

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