|Distribution of the Least Grebe, Subspecies separated by Lines|
The least grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus), an aquatic bird, is the smallest member of the grebe family. It occurs in the New World from the southwestern United States and Mexico to Chile and Argentina, and also on Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles.
The least grebe ranges in length from 21–27 cm (roughly 8.25–10.5 inches, depending on the subspecies) and in weight from 112–180 g (3.95–6.35 oz). Like all grebes, its legs are set far back on its body and it cannot walk well, though it is an excellent swimmer and diver. Small and plump, with a fairly short, sharp-pointed beak and bright yellow eyes, it typically appears quite dark all over.
The breeding adult is brownish grey above with a darker blackish crown and throat. It has a brownish chest and pale underparts. It shows a white wing patch in flight. Non-breeding birds are paler with a whitish throat, and immatures are paler and greyer than adults. Unlike all other members of its genus, it lacks any chestnut coloring on its neck.
There are five recognized subspecies of least grebe, separated principally by size and color.
- T. d. dominicus is found in the northern Caribbean, including the Bahamas, Greater Antilles and Virgin Islands.
- T. d. brachypterus is found from southern Texas and Mexico south to Panama.
- T. d. bangsi is restricted to southern Baja California, Mexico. It is the smallest and palest of the subspecies.
- T. d. speciosus is found in South America, from Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago south to northern Argentina and southern Brazil.
- T. d. eisenmanni is restricted to the lowlands of western Ecuador. This subspecies is not recognized by all authorities.
Its genus name, Tachybaptus, is a combination of two Greek words—takhus meaning fast and baptos meaning diving, or sinking under. The specific name dominicus refers to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which was formerly known as Santo Domingo. As its English name suggests, the least grebe is overall the smallest member of the grebe family. It is the only member of its genus found in the New World; the four other members of the genus Tachybaptus reside in the Old World and Australasia.
Habitat and range
Least grebes are found in a wide variety of wetland habitats, including freshwater ponds, lakes, and marshes, slow-flowing streams and rivers, roadside ditches, and mangrove swamps. In general, they prefer bodies of water with significant amounts of vegetative cover, particularly along the edges; they will even use wetlands which are almost completely overgrown. They may choose small, temporary bodies of water to breed, in an effort to avoid predation of their chicks by large fish.
For much of the year, least grebes are found singly or in pairs; however, when not breeding, they sometimes gather in flocks of 20 or more.
The least grebe eats a variety of aquatic life, including small fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. Like all grebes, it pursues much of its prey underwater. During active feeding bouts, it spends an average of 12.5 seconds beneath the surface on each dive, with surface pauses ranging from 2–24 seconds.
Least grebes breed throughout the year. Those in the tropics tend to breed during the rainy season, while active nests have been found in every month of the year in Texas. Each pair builds a compact floating nest of vegetation—typically a variety of aquatic weeds—which is anchored to rooted plants in still open water as deep as 1.5 m (5 ft). The female lays three to six white eggs, though the damp nest material soon stains them with brown. Both adults incubate the eggs, which hatch after 21 days. The striped young are sometimes carried on the adult's back.
The breeding call has been likened to a horse whinnying.
The least grebe is at risk from a number of predators, particularly early in life. Large fish species and turtles are reported to take young grebes, and bird-eating raptors, including the bat falcon, have been observed taking adult birds.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Tachybaptus dominicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Ogilvie & Rose 2003, p. 92
- Ogilvie & Rose 2003, p. 32
- Ogilvie & Rose 2003, p. 98
- Howell, Steve N. G.; Sophie Webb (1995). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. pp. 94–5. ISBN 0-19-854012-4.
- Ogilvie & Rose 2003, p. 34
- Hilty, Steven L. (2003). Birds of Venezuela. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 185–6. ISBN 0-7136-6418-5.
- Stiles, Gary; Alexander Skutch (1989). A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-8014-2287-6.
- Jenni, Donald A. (April 1969). "Diving times of the Least Grebe and Masked Duck". Auk 86: 355–6. doi:10.2307/4083516.
- ffrench, Richard (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd ed.). Comstock Publishing. ISBN 0-8014-9792-2.
- Ogilvie, Malcolm; Chris Rose (2003). Grebes of the World. Uxbridge, UK: Bruce Coleman. ISBN 1-872842-03-8.
- Least Grebe videos from the Handbook of the Birds of the World's Internet Bird Collection
- Least Grebe images from the Visual Resources for Ornithology (VIREO) department of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences
- Least Grebe vocalizations on xeno-canto.org, a bird sound recording repository
- Least Grebe on stamps
- Least Grebe: photos, vocalizations, notes from The Birds of the Interior of Ceará, Brazil