Family Grebes (Podicipedidae)

Least Concern

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)


French: Grèbe castagneux German: Zwergtaucher Spanish: Zampullín común
Other common names: Common Little Grebe

Colymbus ruficollis


, 1764,



Closely related to T. novaehollandiae and †T. rufolavatus, both of which have been considered races of present species. Extensive hybridization with latter, and occasionally with T. pelzelnii; has interbred in SW England with vagrant Podilymbus podiceps, producing hybrid young#R. Internal taxonomy complicated and poorly understood; full revision required. Race tricolor sometimes considered a separate species (normally including collaris), on grounds of darker underparts and longer and more massive bill, as well as more pronounced sexual dimorphsim in bill length#R; however, although belly very much darker, bill appears only generally rather larger and no other differences apparent, so distinctiveness insufficient for separate species status. Race albescens has traditionally been included in capensis, but appears distinctive, especially with yellow vs brown iris#R. Races intergrade in some areas, e.g. albescens with poggei in Myanmar and W Thailand, cotabato perhaps with tricolor in zone from S Philippines to N Moluccas, and tricolor with collaris in New Guinea. Populations from Java and Lesser Sundas sometimes separated as race vulcanorum on basis of larger and more noticeable throat patch, but geographical reliability of this feature appears unclear#R. Race poggei includes proposed forms japonicus (Honshu) and kunikyonis (Ryukyu Is). Nine subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. r. ruficollis (Pallas, 1764) – Little Grebe – Europe and NW Africa E to Urals.
  • T. r. capensis (Salvadori, 1884) – Africa S of Sahara, Madagascar and Comoro Is.
  • T. r. iraquensis (Ticehurst, 1923) – Iraq and SW Iran.
  • T. r. albescens (Blanford, 1877) – Caucasus E to L Balkhash and Tien Shan, and SE to India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
  • T. r. poggei (Reichenow, 1902) – NE & SE Asia, including S Kuril Is, Japan, Ryukyu Is, Taiwan and Hainan.
  • T. r. philippensis (Bonnaterre, 1791) – N Philippines.
  • T. r. cotabato (Rand, 1948) – Mindanao (SE Philippines).
  • T. r. tricolor (G. R. Gray, 1861) – Tricolored Grebe – Sulawesi and Moluccas, Java and Lesser Sundas E to N New Guinea.
  • T. r. collaris (Mayr, 1945) – NE New Guinea to Bougainville I (Solomon Is).
  • Descriptive notes

    25–29 cm; 130–236 g. Small and dumpy, the rump often appearing very fluffy. Nominate race breeding has blackish-brown cap down to just behind eye and to chin and... read more


    Loud, fast trill given by both sexes. In anxiety or alarm emits somewhat harsh “weeeib... read more


    Wide range of wetlands, normally small and shallow, including small lakes, ponds, canals; also... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly insects and larvae, especially mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), various water bugs (Heteroptera), beetles (... read more


    Season very variable, depending on growth of emergent vegetation and water level: Feb–Sept, with peak Apr–Jul, in W Palearctic... read more


    Resident, dispersive or migratory, depending on winter temperatures on breeding grounds. Some in N... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Widespread and common in most of range. Global population estimated to lie in the range c. 610,000–3,500,000 individuals. In... read more

    Recommended citation

    Llimona, F., del Hoyo, J., Christie, D.A., Jutglar, F., Garcia, E.F.J. & Kirwan, G.M. (2018). Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 17 March 2018).