Courtship ritual of the Little Grebe

posted in: Courtship-Mating | 1

One of the attractions of the Dairy Farm Nature Park is the Singapore Quarry, sited at the south-western end. And the main attraction of the quarry pool is the Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), an uncommon resident. First recorded in 1992 at a pond in Punggol, by 1994 a few were noticed feeding and breeding across the Serangoon River. By 1996 the number increased to 27 birds, helped by colonisation from nearby Malaysia. Unfortunately habitat destruction caused the number to once again decline but by 2005 a pair was found breeding in Serangoon. See HERE and HERE for more information.

Since then the Little Grebe has slowly spread to other parts of Singapore.

This shy bird will immediately dive into the water when approached. It is difficult to get near for any meaningful observation and photography. But Samson Tan was fortunate on the evening of 4th April, 2010. It was a wet day and still drizzling around 1600 hours when he was there. Four grebes suddenly appeared in two different locations opposite the platform where he was. The Little Grebes then put on a rare performance, the courtship ritual that few have the opportunity to witness, let alone document.

One of a pair swam away for a short distance before spurting off with a combined “walking-and-flying” on the water surface with wings flapping wildly. Once some distance away, it turned around and repeated the movements until it was in front of its mate. This courtship ritual was accompanied by loud vocalisation by both birds. The other pair similarly did their courtship ritual as well.

According to Limona & del Hoyo (1992), grebes carry out various highly characteristic ritualised displays, in which the female plays almost as active a role as the male. With the genera Tachybaptus, to which Little Grebe belongs, courtship is highly vocal. With other species, a “head-shaking ceremony” carried with varying degrees of intensity may be occur. And this may serve as an introduction to ceremonies when “the two birds station themselves opposite one another, with their necks erect; both are silent, and they shake their heads, either quickly up and down, or slowly from side to side.” Or a more elaborate “weed ceremony” seen in is the Great Crested Grebe where “both swim away from each other in an extremely ceremonious manner, with a contact “twanging-call”, until each ceremoniously submerges. After several seconds, both reappear, one after the other, each with a billful of weeds, and they quickly moves towards each other, before suddenly rising up vertically, breast to breast, treading water vigorously, in order to keep position, and rocking their heads quickly from side to side, to produce a beautiful dance.

Samson Tan
May 2010

Limona, F. & J. del Hoyo, 1992. Family Podicipedidae (Grebes). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 1. Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 174-196.

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