Australasian crested grebe
Image: Shellie Evans ©

Introduction

The Australasian crested grebe is a diving water bird. Lake Pearson/Moana Rua in Canterbury has been designated a wildlife refuge to help protect the grebe.

Highlights

Population: 600 in New Zealand in 2012
Conservation status: Nationally Vulnerable
Found in: Alpine and sub-alpine lakes in the South Island of New Zealand, and Australia
Threats: Predation, habitat loss, disturbance

Did you know

The handsome Australasian crested grebe or kamana belongs to an ancient order of diving water birds found on every continent in the world. Three of the 22 species in this order have become extinct in the last 30 years. Maori call the birds kamana, and regard them as taonga/treasure.

The Australasian crested grebe has a fine, sharp bill, slender neck and head with a distinctive black double crest. Their cheeks have chestnut frills, fringed black. Their legs are set well back on their bodies to enhance their diving skills, at the expense of mobility on land. For this reason, the birds rarely, if ever, come ashore.

Australasian crested grebe, swimming. Image: M.F.Soper.
Australasian crested grebe feed on small fish, insects and water weeds

Australasian crested grebe adult and chicks swimming. Image: Dave Murray.
Australasian crested grebe adult and chicks

Grebes breed from September to March. They are monogamous, and clutch size ranges from one to seven eggs. They are renowned for their elaborate mating displays and the way young grebes ride among plumage on the back of their swimming parents.

They feed on small fish, insects and water weeds. They swallow feathers to prevent bones passing into the gut and are regurgitated periodically.

At least 100 South Island lakes once had grebes but there have been ongoing declines in Marlborough, on the West Coast and in Fiordland. Only Canterbury and Otago remain as strongholds. They are widely-dispersed birds found in the South Island of New Zealand, and they are fully protected.

Grebes live on alpine and sub-alpine lakes throughout the year, although some migrate to Lake Forsyth/Te Wairewa on Banks Peninsula for winter. They live on lakes of various sizes but require vegetation along the lake margins for nesting and shelter from rough weather. Their floating nests are attached to submerged vegetation.

Sound recording

Australasian crested grebe song (MP3, 862K)
54 second recording of a pair display call on Lake Alexandrina with adult male giving a growling call

Note: Right-click the song link for options to save. Bird songs may be reused according to our copyright terms. More help on files.

Threats

Kamana have declined mainly due to introduced predators and to loss of habitat through drainage of wetlands, and the establishment of hydro schemes.

Nests can be stranded or flooded by artificial fluctuations in lake levels. Wash generated by motorised water craft can also swamp nests and destroy eggs while the noise can scare adult birds leaving eggs or chicks exposed to the cold or predators.

Animals like stoats, cats and raptors can prey on eggs and fledglings, and introduced fish and birds compete for food and breeding space.

Australasian crested grebe. Photo © Andrew Walmsley.
Maori call the birds kamana, and regard them as taonga/treasure

Crested grebe adult and juvenile in Kaituna River on Banks Peninsula, Canterbury. Image: Peter Langlands.
Crested grebe adult and juvenile in Kaituna River on Banks Peninsula, Canterbury

Our work

Lake Pearson/Moana Rua in Canterbury has been designated a wildlife refuge to help protect the grebe. is one of the few remaining breeding sites for kamana, and their numbers appear to have remained stable here for several decades.

Wildlife refuge status is one of New Zealand’s highest forms of legal protection for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitats. This designation allows the Minister of Conservation to exercise discretion over permissible activities on the lake and its margins.

For instance, there are restrictions on motorised boats on the lake and predator control measures will hopefully allow grebes to increase their numbers in years to come.

You can help

When visiting grebe habitat, move quietly and carefully around lake edges. Nests abandoned by panicking adults leave eggs vulnerable to stress and predators.

Help protect New Zealand's native birds

  • Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Don’t throw rubbish into water ways or storm drains.
  • Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at night.
  • Plant a range of native plants that provide food year-round to encourage birds into your garden.
When visiting parks and beaches
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep your dog under control.
  • Prevent the spread of pests. Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. Stay out of fenced-off areas. Leave nesting shore birds alone.
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness, and help save forest birds like kiwi and weka.
  • Follow the water care code. Keep water craft speed to 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore.

 

Back to top