Ian’s Bird of the Week – Little Grebe

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 1

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Little Grebe ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 7/22/12

When I was in Dublin – I’m now back home in North Queensland – and we were waiting for the arrival of my niece’s baby, we used to take the dogs for a walk in nearby Bushy Park along the River Dodder. In the park, there is a large artificial pond with an island and I soon found this Little Grebe or ‘Dabchick’ patiently incubating eggs on her nest.

Grebes are usually fairly shy, so a nesting one is a good photo opportunity as they build their floating nests in the open in shallow water. The nest is anchored to submerged vegetation and branches and the fact that it is floating gives it some protection from changing water levels after rain, for example. The second photo was taken on the 26 June, the day when my niece’s daughter finally arrived.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 2

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 2

It was a while before I could check the progress of the Little Grebe again and when we returned on the 9th June, third photo, the nest had vanished and, as there had been some bad weather in the meantime, I feared the worst. Both adults were still present but there was no obvious sign of any chicks. However, if you look carefully at this bird, you’ll see that the left wing is slightly raised and not folded flat.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 3

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 3

The reason for this became clear when the bird turned around, revealing a chick carefully tucked away under the wing.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 4 with chick

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 4

The fourth photo was taken on the same day. We returned again 4 days later and I saw only the one adult and no chick but there is plenty of cover around the island and I may have missed it.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 5 with chick

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian 5

Any Australian birders would immediately notice the similarity between the Eurasian Little Grebe and the Australasian Grebe. They can be distinguished in breeding plumage by the amount of rufous on the neck, throat and breast. These are rufous in the Little Grebe (hence the specific name ruficollis) but the throat and breast of the Australasian Grebe are black as in the fifth photo. Other distinguishing field marks are the yellow, rather than reddish-brown, iris and the greater amount of white under the tail of the Australasian Grebe, though the latter is not evident in this photo.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

These are fairly trivial differences and for a long time the two were treated as conspecific. However, the ranges of the two overlap in New Guinea (are ‘sympatric’) and it is usual to treat them as separate species with the Little Grebe being widespread throughout Eurasia and Africa and the Australasian Grebe occurring in New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

Best wishes

Ian
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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Check the latest website updates:
http://www.birdway.com.au/#updates
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Lee’s Addition:

I love the photos of the little one riding under the wing of the parent. Of course that brings to mind several verses.

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, (Psalms 17:8 KJV)

How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. (Psalms 36:7 KJV)

He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. (Psalms 91:4 NKJV)

We see the Pied-billed Grebe and the Horned Grebe here. It would be neat to see those two that Ian had the privilege of seeing. The Grebes belong to the Podicipedidae family. There are 23 Grebes worldwide.

See more:

Ian’s Bird of the Week articles.

Podicipedidae – Grebes Family

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