Australian Bush Birds
Hoary-headed Grebe  -  Poliocephalus poliocephalus
Hoary-headed Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe Hoary-headed Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe in mainly non-breeding plumage but showing the facial plumes typical of breeding plumage.
map map The Hoary-headed Grebe - Poliocephalus poliocephalus - body is mid-grey above and white below; the generally similar Australasian Grebe often has russet side not shown by the Hoary-headed Grebe. Male and female are similar, except for the eye colour, males a bit larger with longer bills. In non-breeding plumage the top of the head is plain dark grey, throat, side of neck and side of face is white with a fairly sharp line dividing dark crown and white face; this line passes through bottom of the eye. Bill is mainly pale. Male eye is golden yellow, female eye is ivory finely speckled with black. Wing is grey-brown with a broad white band through the middle. Length is 27 to 30 centimetres.

In breeding birds the crown and throat are black with overlying narrow white swept back plumes on the face. These plumes are often displayed by birds in otherwise non-breeding plumage. In breeding birds the bill is black with a pale tip.

Hoary-headed Grebe - page 2
Immature birds have black spots and lines on the sides of the head; the crown is marked with black, buff and white. Eye is brown.

Hoary-headed Grebes dive for prey but are mostly limited to searching and gleaning for stationary food, mainly aquatic insects, zooplankton and occasional crustaceans. When diving gives a small jump forwards and up for momentum in the dive.

Hoary-headed Grebes gather in open, unsheltered sheets of fresh or saline water. Highly nomadic, they often fly long distances at night despite having fairly weak wings. They are the most communal of the grebes, clustering on open water and clumping in loose rafts to roost. More often found on brackish or salt water than other grebes. Groups often contain mingled Australasian and Hoary-headed Grebes. Often sun-bathe with the tail towards the sun with feathers spread to allow the sun to heat the black skin of the bird's back.

Flies from danger with a long, splashing take-off from the water; also dives to escape. By contrast the Australasian Grebe usually dives to escape danger.

Breeding takes place from November to January or after rain; one brood per season. Pairing is not permanent. The nest is made of algae and other water plants, often floating in groups of up to 400 nests a metre apart. Sometimes with Whiskered Terns. Prefers wetlands with abundant vegetation for breeding.

Found in brackish and salt swamps; open, bare lakes, reservoirs, larger wetland generally; sheltered coastal bays and inlets, especially in winter. Distributed over Australia (including Tasmania) but less often seen in the dry inland or much of the far north.