The Lakes around Rotorua offer some good birdwatching and journeying to and fro from Whakatane and Rotorua I would often take one of the side roads just to see what I could find. On one such trip around to Otautu Bay on Lake Rotoehu, I found my first Australasian little grebe. Just a very small bay with a few houses, mostly only occupied in the summer, and there they were with a juvenile in tow cavorting in the bay, trilling loudly. They are quite distinctive in colour compared with our own little grebe, the dabchick, or at least they are when in breeding plumage.
The Australasian grebe is found in freshwater ponds or small waterways throughout Australia. Birds also occur throughout the Pacific region and have introduced themselves to New Zealand, the first not being sighted until the 1960s. Their hold on New Zealand is still tenuous, although I have heard there are as many as 15 on Lake Rotokawau. Another report comes from an observer of an artificial sandpit pond at Urititi Beach, 30km sth of Whangarei. “A pair of dabchick have been present here for several years. Today there were also a pair of Australasian little grebe in breeding plumage. The behaviour of the 2 species was very different. The Australasian grebes dived and hid in the raupo as soon as they spotted us. The dabchicks just quietly swam to the other side and continued feeding”. There are also spots in the South Island where they are to be found.
Food consists mainly of small fish and water insects. Prey is normally caught during deep underwater dives, but some is taken on the surface. Like other grebes, the Australasian Grebe is often seen eating its own feathers and feeding them to its young. This behaviour is thought to help prevent injury from any sharp fish bones that are swallowed.
The breeding season extends from September to January in the south and January to April in the north. Up to three successive broods may be reared in a season. Four or five pale blue eggs are laid in each clutch. The nest is a floating mound of vegetation, and is normally anchored to a submerged branch or reed. The striped downy chicks are able to swim from birth and are cared for by both parents. When parents start breeding again, however, the young of the previous brood are driven away.
Ohiwa Harbour, eastern Bay of plenty, 2004.
Other common names: —
25 cm., 220 g.,two distinct plumage phases; non-breeding plumage of both the male and female is dark grey-brown above and mostly silver-grey below, with a white oval patch of bare skin at the base of the bill; breeding, both sexes have a glossy-black head and a rich chestnut facial stripe which extends from just behind the eye through to the base of the neck, eye becomes darker and the patch of skin at the base of the bill becomes pale yellow and more noticeable.
Where to find: —
Rare, Lake Rotoma, between Rotorua and Whakatane
Credit for the photograph: —
Illustration description: —
Mathews, Gregory, The Birds of Australia 1910-28.
Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Page date & version: —
Saturday, 17 May, 2014; ver2009v1