Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the Month: Australasian Grebe

Posted on 19 June, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to Bird of the Month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Damian’s stunning photos.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)

Australasian Grebes hold a special place in my heart, simply because they have such cute fluffy bums and can often be seen on dams. They are seemingly half fish, spending their lives on or under water. They nest on rafts and can spend long periods under the water foraging. On land they are quite ungainly and walk very awkwardly. And then there’s the chicks, the cutest striped balls of fluff riding on a parent’s back, tucked safely away in a bed of living feathers.

The Australasian Grebe is too cute for words.  Photo Damian Kelly

Appearance can vary quite a bit. In the breeding season, both males and females have a glossy-black head with a chestnut stripe on the face extending from behind the eye through to the base of the neck and a distinctive yellow patch below the eye. In contrast, the non-breeding plumage of both sexes is dark grey-brown above with silver-grey below and lacks the distinctive yellow patch. Juveniles are quite different again, with camouflage-type black stripes on grey plumage.

Juveniles are quite different again, with camouflage-type black stripes on grey plumage. Photo: Damian Kelly

They are adaptable and can be found in varying habitats from small farm dams to larger bodies of water. Food includes fish, snails and aquatic arthropods usually collected by diving. Grebes are also known to eat their downy feathers and feed feathers to their young. Various reasons have been suggested for this behaviour ranging from aiding digestion to assisting the formation of pellets to help eject fish bones, but definitive reasons are yet to be determined.

Grebes are known to be quite mobile and will fly to new areas as water levels change. Flight is generally undertaken at night. They have also colonized New Zealand in recent times.

The Australasian grebe is common on freshwater lakes and rivers in greater Australia, New Zealand and on nearby Pacific islands. Photo: Damian Kelly

Nests are a floating mound of vegetation that is usually attached to a submerged branch or other fixed object. Over a season, two or three clutches of 3-5 eggs are laid. At times two females may lay in the same nest.  Young can swim from birth and are fed by both parents. However, if a second clutch is laid the young of the previous brood are driven away.

To hear the call of the Australasian Grebe, please click here

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