Little Grebe

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Image:LittleGrebe.JPG

Common Name: Little Grebe
Scientific Name: Tachybaptus ruficollis

Size: 8-11.4 inches (23-29 cm); Wingspan: 10-14 inches (25.4-35.5 cm)

Habitat: Europe, Asia and Africa; found throughout most of Europe, much of Southern Asia down to New Guinea, and most of Africa.

This species is sedentary, locally dispersive or fully migratory depending on the winter temperatures of its breeding grounds. Some dispersive movements in Africa are also related to seasonal rains and the appearance of temporary wetlands. The species breeds in solitary pairs, the timing of breeding varying geographically and depending on the growth of emergent vegetation and water-levels. After breeding the species undergoes a flightless wing-molting period during which it may assemble in loose groups (up to 700 individuals) in rich feeding areas. During the winter the species is largely solitary or occurs in small groups of 5-30 individuals.

The species inhabits a wide range of small and shallow wetlands usually less than 1 m deep with rich vegetation (floating, submerged and emergent) and high densities of aquatic invertebrates, generally avoiding waters with large predatory fish. Suitable habitats include small lakes, ponds, the sheltered bays and vegetated shores of larger freshwater, alkaline or saline lakes and reservoirs, slow-flowing rivers, canals, flood-plain oxbows, coastal brackish lagoons, seasonally inundated areas, swamps, gravel pits, sewage lagoons and rice-fields. Outside of breeding season it is common on more open waters and is occasionally observed along the coast in estuaries or sheltered bays protected from strong wave action. When molting the species requires rich feeding areas.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 610,000-3,500,000 adult individuals. The overall population trend is decreasing, although some populations may be stable and others have unknown trends.

Diet: Predominantly of adult and larval insects, especially mayflies, stoneflies, water bugs, beetles, flies, caddisflies and dragon flies, as well as freshwater snails, crustaceans, adult and juvenile frogs and newts and occasionally small fish.

It is an excellent swimmer and diver and pursues its fish and aquatic invertebrate prey underwater. It uses the vegetation skilfully as a hiding place.

Nesting: Sexes were alike but females are smaller. The adult is unmistakable in summer, predominantly dark above with its rich, rufous color neck, cheeks and flanks, and bright yellow to white gape. The Iris is red-brown in Europe and red-brown or yellow in E Asia. The rufous is replaced by a dirty brownish grey in non-breeding and juvenile birds.

Juvenile birds have a yellow bill with a small black tip, and black and white streaks on the cheeks and sides of the neck as seen below. This yellow bill darkens as the juveniles age, eventually turning black once in adulthood.

In winter, its size, buff plumage, with a darker back and cap, and “powder puff” rear end enable easy identification of this species. The Little Grebe's breeding call, given singly or in duet, is a trilled repeated weet-weet-weet or wee-wee-wee which sounds like a horse whinnying.

The nest is a floating platform of aquatic plant matter anchored to emergent vegetation, submerged branches or bushes close to the edge of shallow wetlands. Usually four to seven eggs are laid. When the adult bird leaves the nest it usually takes care to cover the eggs with weeds. This makes it less likely to be detected by predators. The young leave the nest and can swim soon after hatching, and chicks are often carried on the backs of the swimming adults.

Cool Facts: There are nine currently-recognized subspecies of Little Grebe, separated principally by size and coloration.

  • T. r. ruficollis is found from Europe and western Russia south to North Africa.
  • T. r. iraquensis is found in southeastern Iraq and southwestern Iran.
  • T. r. capensis is found in Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and the Indian subcontinent, extending east to Burma.
  • T. r. poggei is found from southeastern to northeastern Asia, Hainan, Taiwan, Japan, and south Kuril Islands.
  • T. r. philippensis is found in the northern Philippines.
  • T. r. cotobato is found on Mindanao.
  • T. r. tricolor is found from Sulawesi to New Guinea and the Lesser Sundas.
  • T. r. volcanorum is found from Java to Timor.
  • T. r. collaris is found from northeastern New Guinea to Bougainville.

It does not normally interbreed with the larger grebes in the Old World, but a bird in Cornwall mated with a vagrant North American Pied-billed Grebe, producing hybrid young.


Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume 4: Geese, Loons, Grebes & Coots

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