The great crested grebe. Picture: Allan Briggs
The great crested grebe. Picture: Allan Briggs

Dazzling courtship display from grebes

WITH its spiky black crest and chestnut mane, the great crested grebe is unmistakeable. It inhabits wetlands from rivers and lakes to estuaries and sheltered bays, but favours large, deep, open bodies of freshwater.

It has a long neck and head with a distinctive black double crest, dark brown wings, satin white underparts, a black crown, dark olive-green feet and, during flight, prominent white patches are visible on its wings. It also has a white face with red eyes, and a black line from the base of the bill to the eye. Juveniles have a striped black and white head and neck.

They perform elaborate courtship displays, which include activities such as the “weed dance” and the elegant “penguin dance”. The latter display involves birds stretching their necks upwards, then suddenly rising up out of the water with their feet paddling vigorously and their breasts touching. They feed on fish, caught by diving in clear water. When diving underwater they are propelled by their feet.

The nest is constructed from a mass of dead water-plants, weeds and mud, usually attached to reeds, fallen or drooping branches or a submerged stump, and is found on or near the vegetated margins of large open waters. Both parents incubate the eggs and tend to the young.

The adults teach the young birds how to swim and dive by carrying them on their back and then diving under the water leaving the young floating on the surface. The adult resurfaces some distance away and the young birds have to swim to get back on-board.

Not very common and the best place to see them would be Lake Awoonga.

abriggs@irock.com.au



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