Australian Bush Birds
Australasian Grebe  -  Tachybaptus novaehollandiae
Australasian Grebe
Australasian Grebe in breeding plumage at Lake Bindegolly, south west Queensland. The tops of the legs are set well back in this excellent swimmer.
map map The Australasian Grebe - Tachybaptus novaehollandiae - is coloured sooty above with breast and flank dappled pale grey-brown; belly is white. Feet dark green-grey. Legs are set well back on the body; toes have wide flat lobes making this bird a superb swimmer and diver but clumsy on land. Male and female similar, 230 to 250 millimetres. Often floats with rear body plumage fluffed out to let the sun warm the skin, giving a rounded appearance. Breeding birds are differently coloured to non-breeding birds.

In breeding birds the head is glossy black with a patch of chestnut from the eye back to the sides of neck and head. Small oval patch of pale yellow bare skin from below eye to base of bill. Eye is yellow, bill black with white tip. The neck is grey-brown all round.

Non-breeding birds lack the head and facial markings of the breeding bird; they have a more extensive white throat, with a brown head separated from the pale face by a sharp line through the eye; the back of the neck is also brown; the bill is mainly pink or pale-orange.

Australasian Grebe
Australasian Grebes in non-breeding plumage in south west Queensland. The small coloured patch of skin ('gape') behind the mouth is darker in colour than in a breeding bird and plumage has changed.
Australasian Grebe - page 2
Non-breeding Australasian Grebes are similar to non-breeding Hoary-headed Grebes although the dark coloured cap of the Hoary-headed Grebe extends further below the eye than in the Australasian Grebe. The two species form composite groups.

Immatures are coloured as for non-breeding adults but have some stripes on the head.

Breeds mostly from September to March, rearing two or three broods per season. The nest is made of floating plant material, usually on a small body of fresh water. Four to seven eggs, chalky pale blue stained brown; ellipsoid in shape, about 35 by 25 millimetres. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 21 days.

This is the smallest grebe, usually seen in pairs. Usually inhabits fresh-water, rarely seen in brackish or salt water. Occasionally makes short flights with rapidly whirring wings; not a generally good flyer. More likely to dive and swim from danger than to fly. Dives forward leaving only a slight ripple. Spends much of the day hunting underwater down to 3 metres or more; bringing prey to the surface and shaking it violently - probably to break off the hard claws of freshwater crayfish which are a popular prey. Other food items include small fish, water insects and snails.

Inhabits diverse fresh water wetlands - lakes, swamps and farm dams; usually with abundant aquatic vegetation. Sometimes after breeding found in large flocks on open waters, including coastal estuaries. A widespread and common species.

When threatened this species dives and swims away to come to the surface screened by vegetation.

Similar: Non-breeding Australasian Grebes are similar to non-breeding Hoary-headed Grebes; The Australasian Grebe tends to have more russet colouring along the flanks than the Hoary-headed Grebe. Also similar to the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) which is a vagrant species rarely seen in the Top End and Kimberley.

Australasian Grebes
Australasian Grebe in non-breeding plumage in the Menindee Lakes System Interconnection. These birds were in a mixed group of Australian and Hoary-headed Grebes. Non-breeding Australian Grebes can be separated from Hoary-headed Grebes mainly by reddish sides; small pale yellow gapes can also just be made out, in a breeding bird these become bright yellow. Non-breeding Hoary-headed grebes often retain facial streaks not seen on these birds.