Bird Watch – Australian crested grebe

The Australian crested grebe. Photo copyright Steve Attwood, Christchurch.

The Australian crested grebe. Photo copyright Steve Attwood, Christchurch.

In the mid-1980s a small number of Australian crested grebe began to appear on Te Roto o Wairewa/Lake Forsyth in autumn-winter. This flock has increased in every subsequent year to the point where 220-300 adult and immature crested grebes (approximately ¾ of the entire total New Zealand population), now spend winter on Te Roto o Wairewa/Lake Forsyth, with a small number spilling over to the Kaituna and Atāhua areas of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

A change in the wintering habits of this species has occurred. While the birds once spent most of their time in the Canterbury and Otago high country, a large number now migrate to the milder, nutrient-rich, lowland coastal habitats of Lakes Forsyth/Te Roto o Wairewa and Ellesmere/Te Waihora.

Christchurch photographer Steve Attwood has been watching the Australian crested grebe population on Wairewa and Te Waihora for some time.

“The grebes nest on Waiwera and Te Waihora, especially down at the Harts Creek end, though grebes are also frequently seen at the Kaituna Lagoon end, in fact I was watching one there at my last visit to Te Waihora,” Steve says.

“Last year, I observed about six pair of grebes down at Harts Creek and this year, so far, two pair and several individuals at the Kaituna end.

“Once upon a time Te Waihora and Waiwera were wintering grounds for grebes and they returned to the high country lakes to breed but in the last few years they have stayed and they now breed on these coastal lakes.”

 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Conservation.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Conservation.

The Australian crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus australis; kāmana orpūteketeke), has a long, sinuous neck with a red-orange ruff that tapers to a long, pointed bill. During courtship displays, the birds float, facing each other, fanning their wings and fluffing up their head crests and neck ruffs. At the height of the display, they rear upwards until almost vertical, breast-to-breast, bill-to-bill, crooning and gurgling.

They build floating nests that are often anchored to reeds or other lake plants. Steve says he has witnessed some of their local nests being blown away in southerly storms – eggs and all – but he says the population on both lakes is doing well. (It often carries its chicks on its back when it swims).

Crested grebes are endangered in New Zealand. Numbers started to increase from 2007, thanks to pest control measures.