They used to be present in the lakes of the lower South Island but underwent a rapid decline there (for unknown reasons) in the 19th century.
Today, the largest populations are concentrated around the Central North Island in Taupo and Rotorua.
The dabchick is a specialised waterbird and a member of the grebe family. Grebes are small to medium-sized aquatic diving birds.
Grebes use large, powerful lobed feet set far back on their body to propel and steer themselves in water. They have relatively long necks and are noted for their ability to change their buoyancy.
Dabchick eating small fish
The dabchick has mostly dark plumage with a line of distinctive fine, silvery feathers on it's head. The breast and foreneck have a chestnut tinge, and the underparts are dusky to silvery white.
The New Zealand dabchick is generally a silent bird, except for an occasional wee-ee-ee call, which gave rise to its Maori name Weweia.
Dabchicks are known for head-bobbing up and down, side to side, or back and forth, and this behaviour often tells tham apart from scaup.
Their diet consists mostly of aquatic insects and their larvae, as well as small mollusks such as freshwater snails. Occasionaly bigger prey such as fish and freshwater crayfish are taken.
Dabchicks dive for their food and can reach depths of around 4 m. They can hold their breath for around 40 seconds.
Nesting and breeding
Starting around July, dabchicks start pairing up and building their nests out of water-logged vegetation. Usually nests are anchored to emergent aquatic vegetation like raupö or sedges, or tree branches that trail into the water.
Because the nest is attached to something it doesn’t have much bouyancy, so dabchick nests are very easily swamped by even a small rise in water levels – including boat wash. As the nests are close to shore, the eggs are also vulnerable to predation by Norway rats that like to live near water and are good swimmers.
Dabchick and chick
The main breeding season starts in September and runs through to December. Chicks are able to swim immediately after hatching, but tend to ride on their parents’ backs for their first three weeks of life, when they are still small and downy.
DOC, alongside volunteers, currently complete bi-annual surveys of dabchick populations with the aim of identifying varying populations.
You can help
Volunteer on dabchick surveys. These run twice a year in different Rotorua lakes. Contact the Rotorua DOC office.
Dabchicks are easily disturbed by boats, water skis and jet skis. Keep your speed to 5 knots within 200m of the shore to reduce boat wash and disturbance to dabchicks and their nests.
The dabchick mating season runs from September to December. Avoid getting too close during this time.
Read about dabchick on the IUCN website
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, beaches, rivers, and lakes
- 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 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.