Image of the November 2017 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
November 2017 Issue
Home / Articles / Bird Spotting

Southern crested grebe

Adult crested grebe on a drizzly Lake Ruataniwha. Photo: Matt Winter
Only found in the South Island, the southern crested grebe has an interesting method of disposing of bones. 

The southern crested grebe (puteketeke) would undoubtedly be one of our most majestic and elegant birds, with its distinctive bright chestnut and black cheek frills, used in its complex and bizarre mating displays.

A moderate-sized water-diving bird, it can be mistaken for waterfowl or shags when seen at a distance. The upper plumage is a dark chestnut-brown, the underparts are silvery-white and the wings have distinctive white patches that are only seen in flight. The neck is long and slender, as is the fine black bill. The feet possess a peculiar lobed structure, which increases the efficiency and speed of diving, and are set relatively far back on the body. Young and juvenile birds look completely different, with a black and white striped head and neck and grey body plumage. Adult birds are generally 48cm-61cm tall and weigh 1100g.

Puteketeke are found in about 100 lakes in the South Island, ranging from small tarns to large glacial lakes, but are now extinct in the North Island. Their strongholds are in the Canterbury and Otago high country. In Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast and Fiordland they are rarer and have declined significantly.

They breed between September and March and construct floating nests, made of sticks and water weeds, which are often attached to willow branches or reeds.

They lay between five and seven eggs, which are incubated by both parents (eggs are covered with weed when not being incubated) and they both also care for the young, which are carried on their backs when small. The incubation period lasts 26 days. Interestingly, the young can swim after just two days and can dive after a week.

The puteketeke mainly eat fish and occasionally aquatic invertebrates (especially larvae) and weed, which they forage for at depths of two to five metres. By swallowing feathers to help form ejectable pellets, sharp bones are prevented from entering the stomach and damaging the intestines.

Support Wilderness

Since 1991, Wilderness has had one simple goal: to help Kiwis ‘See more, do more, live more’ of New Zealand.

If you value our mission, please consider subscribing. As a loyal supporter, you’ll receive these benefits:

  • New Zealand’s best outdoor journalism We’ve won multiple awards for our journalism and magazine production.
  • NZ’s best trips. Browse more than 610 trips with downloadable maps and route notes.
  • Trustworthy gear reviews. Each month we review gear we’ve been bashing and thrashing for months so you can determine if its worth your money.
  • Web exclusives. Each week we publish stories you won’t find in the magazine. View our latest web exclusives.
  • Member benefits. Our WildCard provides discounts at more than 20 partners throughout New Zealand.
  • Your support goes a long way. Your subscription will help us fund NZ’s best outdoor journalists and writers and ensure Wilderness will be there to inspire the next generation of outdoor Kiwis.

A subscription costs as little as $7.00/month for instant access to all articles, trips, gear reviews and gear guides.

View all our subscription options and join the club.

Already a subscriber? Login Now.