The bizarre mating dance of the hooded grebe

Reader Charleen sent me the tweet below, which shows the courtship ritual of the hooded grebe (Podiceps gallardoi), a rare and critically endangered species (fewer than 1000 individuals) that lives in isolated Patagonian lakes. Have a look at this craziness, and ask yourself “Why the hell are they doing this?” or “What selective advantage is there in testing each other this way?” And don’t ask me, because I have no idea! It’s clearly a bonding ritual, but may be a form of mutual sexual selection in which potential mates size each other up in some way:

A photo:

That in turn led me to a new article in Audubon magazine that identifies the clip as coming from a new movie about the species, “Tango in the Wind.” Fortunately, the half-hour documentary is free on Vimeo, and I’ve put it below. Grebe species are known for some really fancy footwork during courtship (Google “courtship grebe”), but the Hooded takes the cake.  And, as Audubon notes,

But the Hooded Grebe’s courtship hasn’t been nearly as well documented [as that of other grebes], thanks to its limited range in the harsh and isolated barrens of Patagonia, near the tip of South America. In fact, the species wasn’t even known to science until 1974. “There aren’t many people who know much about Hooded Grebe courtship,” says Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman. “The people who made this video probably know as much about the bird as anyone does.”

. . . The Hooded Grebe’s courtship dance may look funny, but with fewer than 500 breeding pairs remaining, this is serious business. Its numbers have declined by about 80 percent in the past 25 years, largely due to the introduction of the non-native American mink and rainbow trout, according to BirdLife International. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature labeled the species critically endangered in 2016.

Researchers interviewed in Tango in the Wind say climate change further threatens Hooded Grebe’s habitat and survival, noting that it’s already drying up the lakes where they nest. While more abundant than their Patagonian cousins, Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes both face significant losses of their summer range, thanks to climate change. They’re among the 314 climate-endangered North American bird species identified by Audubon.

Now, if you have half an hour, watch this lovely but sad movie—sad because this wonderful species is on the verge of extinction, probably due to global warming. And watch it on full screen; the link for that is here. (The courtship segment begins about ten minutes in and you can see a bit at the very end.)



  1. Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing our work. This will aid conservation.

      KInd regards Mike and Paula webster

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Looks to be a very tough challenge to save these birds. Humans really know how to screw things up.

  3. Ken Phelps
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone else think of a Pierson’s Puppeteer when they watched those heads bobbing around. Nessus having a breakdown!

    • jimroberts
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Not until you mentioned it. Do we have any information on the colouration of Pierson’s Puppeteers?

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        I recall that their manes are often dyed and decorated, but have no real idea on the color of skin (or hair?) on the thorax and legs. Images on Google are all over the spectrum, but of course they’re just guesses, not the real thing…

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 4:01 am | Permalink

        I recall a scene in one of the “… of Worlds” books where one of Nessus’ co-breeders was getting dolled-up (Puppeted-up?) for a political broadcast and applying body paints. So, “variable, with fashion”.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

      I didn’t think of it, but it sure does fit the image Nien generates for me.

  4. rickflick
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    How sad to think that the lovely American mink is a problem in Patagonia. I was just cleaning out my back yard shed and discovered a mink living in the attic. What a beautiful, wonderful, creature it is. It looked down at me through the attic door, puzzled by my noisy invasion of it’s living space. A cute little, stubby nosed, fuzzy creature peered down at me. Now I have to think of him as a vicious predator, endangering threatened species of grebe. Sad.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink


      I encountered a mink in the wild once and got several pictures (which I currently don’t have access to, dammit). Bigger than I expected, and gorgeous. Around here you occasionally see a mink burrow opening near a stream or lake, with a ring of crayfish exoskeletons around it.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Lovely. Those birdies seem to levitate their bodies out of the water at one point – supported by frantic back & forth waggling, invisible lobed feet. Needs an underwater cam.

  6. Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    “What selective advantage is there in testing each other this way?”
    certainly bonding as you say but maybe also commitment to that bond in such a harsh environment, both rear the young so it seems important for survival.
    Great video, great people involved.

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your well thought comments. The pair are strongly attached, both building the nest, incubating the eggs and feeding the young.

      Kind regards
      Michael and Paula Webster

  7. Werner H Baur
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I could not photograph it, but I have seen some pretty crazy dances by the American loon.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      ** Mental picture of Trump dancing **

      • rickflick
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        Oh, please! 😎

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink


  8. Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Huh, I thought this was going to be a commentary on President Trump.

  9. Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Mating dances are just a social construct.

  10. Diane G.
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Such a captivating video!

    • Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Thankd for your comment.

      Paula and I and the team had a great (but hard) time making the film.

      Its a beautiful bird.

      Kind regards Michael Webster

  11. Mike
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink


  12. Liz
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    This is really interesting. I wonder a lot about why any species does anything like this.

  13. Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing our work!
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