Titicaca grebe

Last updated

Titicaca grebe
36 Titicaca Grebe.JPG
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Podicipediformes
Family: Podicipedidae
Genus: Rollandia
R. microptera
Binomial name
Rollandia microptera
(Gould, 1868)
Rollandia microptera map.svg
  • Podiceps micropterus
    Gould, 1868
  • Centropelma microptera
    Sclater & Salvin 1869

The Titicaca grebe (Rollandia microptera), also known as the Titicaca flightless grebe or short-winged grebe, is a grebe found on the altiplano of Peru and Bolivia. As its name implies, its main population occurs on Lake Titicaca. Lake Uru Uru and Poopó, the Rio Desaguadero, and small lakes that connect to Lake Titicaca in wet years, serve as "spillovers" territory. In the past, the population was larger and several of these lakes – such as Lakes Umayo and Arapa – apparently had and may still have permanent large colonies (BirdLife International 2006). It is sometimes placed in Podiceps or a monotypic genus Centropelma. Its local name is zampullín del Titicaca.



This is a mid-sized grebe, varying from 28 to 45 cm in overall length. It weighs up to 600 g. Its coloration is unmistakable. The only grebe species it somewhat resembles is the unrelated red-necked grebe which is not found in South America. The only congener, the white-tufted grebe, does not look very similar. The color pattern of the Titicaca grebe is altogether similar to that of the red-necked grebe, but it has a darker belly, and a white (not light grey) throat patch that runs down the neck nearly to the breast. Due to the short wings, the rufous flanks can usually be seen. The ornamental plumes on the head are a vestigial version of those of the white-tufted grebe, but dark. Iris and the lower bill are yellow. Juveniles and non-breeding adults are duller, lack the ornamental plumes, and in the case of the former have rufous stripes on the sides of the head and more white on the neck, so that the rufous breast does not show in swimming birds.

It is entirely flightless, but will use wing-assisted running over considerable distances. It is an excellent diver, reaching a burst speed of 3.5 km/h (2 knots).

Distribution and habitat

The Titicaca flightless grebe occurs in a habitat mosaic in relatively shallow waters (up to about 10 m/35 ft deep). The reed belt is found in water of up to 4 m (13 ft) deep and constitutes the breeding habitat. It is made up mainly of Totora (Schoenoplectus californicus ssp. tatora). Other plants are the underwater Myriophyllum elatinoides and Hydrocharitaceae water weeds, and the floating duckweeds and Azolla . Potamogeton constitute the dominant underwater vegetation in the deeper parts, down to 14 m (some 45 ft).

In a study by O'Donnel and Fjeldsa they concluded that Grebes are strongly impacted and sensitive to environmental change.


This species, like all grebes, feeds mainly on fish. Nearly 95% of prey mass is made up by the Orestias pupfish of the Titicaca drainage. The introduced silversides Odontesthes bonariensis (pejerrey) is not usually taken. As the grebe only eats prey smaller than some 15 cm (6 in), the adult pejerrey which are of commercial interest are not part of its diet as they are far too large.


It is likely that each pair which holds a territory attempts to breed once per year. The period in which the parents care for the young is probably rather prolonged, and there is possibly no fixed breeding season. Young birds become independent probably at somewhat less than 1 year of age, and there are usually 2 young per clutch, but there may be up to 4. Altogether, although more birds are found to incubate around December than at other times, about half the adult population seems to be breeding or caring for young at any time.

Conservation status

It is classified by the IUCN as Endangered, [1] with a population of less than 750 adults (BirdLife International 2006). Censuses in the latter part of the 20th century revealed that the population had declined from several thousand coincident with the introduction of monofilament line gill nets in the 1990s. It was confirmed (Martinez et al. 2006) that the mortality of grebes drowning in these nets is considerable, killing potentially thousands of individuals each year in 2003. Obviously, the 2001 survey which detected very low numbers was flawed for some reason and the species must be more common simply to sustain such losses. In 2003, the number of individuals was estimated to be over 2,500, with more than 750 mature birds, possibly as many as 1,500. This still is a marked decline from the pre-1990s figures.

The IUCN currently lists its threat status as EN A2cde+3cde; D. The "D" qualifier is not appropriate according to the latest results. [1] Its addition was based on a pessimistic scenario based on 2001 field data (that the bird was near-extinct on Lake Titicaca, from which there was insufficient data then). Instead, the classification would be EN A3cde; C2a(i) or EN C1+2a(i), depending on how population numbers have developed since then. In any case, the 2003 survey indicated that subpopulations are fragmented, with probably no more than about 100 pairs occurring in any one area. It is not known how much the grebes move about until establishing breeding territories, but presumably, the species is fairly sedentary due to its flightlessness.


Apart from drowning in gill nets, other threats are probably only relevant in the short run, locally, or if several should manifest simultaneously. Eggs may be collected by locals on a small scale, and this is probably sustainable. Adult birds are not usually hunted as they taste of rancid fish like all grebes. Locally (e.g. around Puno), it may abandon habitat due to pollution and boat traffic; on the other hand, the delta of the Rio Coata at the northern end of Puno Bay seems prime habitat at least seasonally (Martinez et al. 2006). Overharvesting of reeds will also drive the birds from an area, but generally the threat of unsustainable use of totora is of less significance, at least in the short term. It is notable that the species evolved on the lake and has sustained several periods of rather pronounced climate change in addition to the normal ENSO. It apparently possesses a quite good capability to recover from population declines, which seems an adaptation to the fluctuating habitat availability even during periods of stable climate, as the lake routinely floods and recedes from considerable areas. Apparently, population numbers reached a low point in 1999 due to a severe drought following the "mega-ENSO" of 1997/1998, and have somewhat recovered since then.

Pejerrey fishery occurs mostly in waters too deep to be utilized by the grebes. While the coarser gill nets used for fishing pejerrey are technically more of a threat to the sizable grebes than the finer ones preferred for Orestias, the latter will still catch and drown especially young and inexperienced birds, and probably even attract these due to holding their favorite food. O. bonariensis is not only one of the two major hauls of the local fishing industries, but places a strain on the Orestias stocks. Insofar, a shift by the fishermen from Orestias to the silversides is likely to benefit them, the grebes, and the entire lake ecosystem.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lake Titicaca</span> Large freshwater lake on the border of Peru and Bolivia

Lake Titicaca is a large freshwater lake in the Andes mountains on the border of Bolivia and Peru. It is often called the highest navigable lake in the world. By volume of water and by surface area, it is also the largest lake in South America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Red-necked grebe</span> Species of migratory aquatic bird

The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Horned grebe</span> Species of bird

The horned grebe or Slavonian grebe is a relatively small waterbird in the family Podicipedidae. There are two known subspecies: P. a. auritus, which breeds in the Palearctic, and P. a. cornutus, which breeds in North America. The Eurasian subspecies is distributed over most of northern Europe and the Palearctic, breeding from Greenland to western China. The North American subspecies spans most of Canada and some of the United States. The species got its name from large patches of yellowish feathers located behind the eyes, called "horns", that the birds can raise and lower at will.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black-necked grebe</span> Water bird from parts of Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas.

The black-necked grebe or eared grebe is a member of the grebe family of water birds. It was described in 1831 by Christian Ludwig Brehm. There are currently three accepted subspecies, including the nominate subspecies. Its breeding plumage features a distinctive ochre-coloured plumage which extends behind its eye and over its ear coverts. The rest of the upper parts, including the head, neck, and breast, are coloured black to blackish brown. The flanks are tawny rufous to maroon-chestnut, and the abdomen is white. When in its non-breeding plumage, this bird has greyish-black upper parts, including the top of the head and a vertical stripe on the back of the neck. The flanks are also greyish-black. The rest of the body is a white or whitish colour. The juvenile has more brown in its darker areas. The subspecies californicus can be distinguished from the nominate by the former's usually longer bill. The other subspecies, P. n. gurneyi, can be differentiated by its greyer head and upper parts and by its smaller size. P. n. gurneyi can also be told apart by its lack of a non-breeding plumage. This species is present in parts of Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Little grebe</span> Species of bird

The little grebe, also known as dabchick, is a member of the grebe family of water birds. The genus name is from Ancient Greek takhus "fast" and bapto "to sink under". The specific ruficollis is from Latin rufus "red" and Modern Latin -collis, "-necked", itself derived from Latin collum "neck".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Zealand grebe</span> Species of bird

The New Zealand grebe ,also known as New Zealand dabchick or weweia, is a member of the grebe family endemic to New Zealand.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Junin grebe</span> Species of bird

The Junín grebe, also known as Junin flightless grebe or puna grebe, is a grebe found only on Lake Junin in the highlands of Junín, west-central Peru. The grebe generally breeds in bays and channels around the edge of the Lake, within 8–75 m (26–246 ft) of reed beds, entering the reeds only for nesting or roosting. When not breeding, Junin grebe prefer open water, moving far out from lake shores. The current population is estimated at less than 250.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nankeen night heron</span> Species of bird

The nankeen night heron is a heron that belongs to the genus Nycticorax and the family Ardeidae. Due to its distinctive reddish-brown colour, it is also commonly referred to as the rufous night heron. It is primarily nocturnal and is observed in a broad range of habitats, including forests, meadows, shores, reefs, marshes, grasslands, and swamps. The species is 55 to 65 cm in length, with rich cinnamon upperparts and white underparts. The nankeen night heron has a stable population size, and is classified as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hooded grebe</span> Species of bird

The hooded grebe, is a medium-sized grebe found in the southern region of Argentina. It grows to about 32 cm (13 in) in length, and is black and white in color. It is found in isolated lakes in the most remote parts of Patagonia and spends winters along the coast of the same region. In 2012 IUCN uplisted the species from Endangered to Critically Endangered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colombian grebe</span> Extinct species of bird

The Colombian grebe, was a grebe found in the Bogotá wetlands on the Bogotá savanna in the Eastern Ranges of the Andes of Colombia. The species was still abundant in Lake Tota in 1945. The species has occasionally been considered a subspecies of black-necked grebe. It was flightless.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Madagascar grebe</span> Species of bird

The Madagascar grebe is a grebe found only in western and central Madagascar. The binomial name commemorates the Austrian ornithologist August von Pelzeln. It is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, with a population of less than 5,000. It is threatened by habitat loss, predation by carnivorous fish, and competition with introduced species.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great grebe</span> Species of bird

The great grebe is the largest species of grebe in the world. A disjunct population exists in northwestern Peru, while the main distribution is from extreme southeastern Brazil to Patagonia and central Chile. The population from southern Chile is considered a separate subspecies, P. m. navasi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Titicaca orestias</span> Species of fish

The Titicaca orestias, Lake Titicaca orestias, or Lake Titicaca flat-headed fish, also known by its native name amanto, is a likely extinct freshwater killifish from Lake Titicaca in South America. It belongs in the pupfish genus Orestias, endemic to lakes, rivers and streams in the Andean highlands. With a total length of up to 27 cm (10.6 in), it was the largest member in that genus. In the hope that an undiscovered population remains, it is listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN. Despite its common name, it is not the only Orestias from Lake Titicaca.

<i>Orestias</i> (fish) Genus of fishes

Orestias is a genus of pupfish. Older systematics classified them into the own family Orestiidae. They are found in lakes, rivers and springs in the Andean highlands of South America, and several species are considered threatened. They are egg-laying fish that feed on small animals and plant matter. The largest species can reach a total length of 27 cm (10.6 in), but most remain far smaller. Their most characteristic feature is the absence of the ventral fin, although this is shared by a few other pupfish. Despite their moderate to small size, they are important to local fisheries and a few species are farmed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Snoring rail</span> Species of bird

The snoring rail, also known as the Celebes rail or Platen's rail, is a large flightless rail and the only member of the genus Aramidopsis. The species is endemic to Indonesia, and it is found exclusively in dense vegetation in wet areas of Sulawesi and nearby Buton. The rail has grey underparts, a white chin, brown wings and a rufous patch on the hind-neck. The sexes are similar, but the female has a brighter neck patch and a differently coloured bill and iris. The typical call is the snoring: ee-orrrr sound that gives the bird its English name.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fauna of the Andes</span>

The fauna of the Andes, a mountain range in South America, is large and diverse. As well as a huge variety of flora, the Andes contain many different animal species.

<i>Telmatobius macrostomus</i> Species of amphibian

Telmatobius macrostomus, also known as the Lake Junin (giant) frog or Andes smooth frog, is a very large and endangered species of frog in the family Telmatobiidae. This completely aquatic frog is endemic to lakes and associated waters at altitudes of 4,000–4,600 m (13,100–15,100 ft) in the Andes of Junín and Pasco in central Peru. It has been introduced to slow-moving parts of the upper Mantaro River, although it is unclear if this population still persists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">White-tufted grebe</span> Species of bird

The white-tufted grebe, also known as Rolland's grebe, is a species of grebe in the family Podicipedidae. Found in the southern half of South America, its natural habitat is freshwater lakes, ponds and sluggish streams.

<i>Telmatobius culeus</i> Species of amphibian

Telmatobius culeus, commonly known as the Titicaca water frog, is a medium-large to very large and endangered species of frog in the family Telmatobiidae. It is entirely aquatic and only found in the Lake Titicaca basin, including rivers that flow into it and smaller connected lakes like Arapa, Lagunillas and Saracocha, in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru. In reference to its excessive amounts of skin, it has jokingly been referred to as the Titicaca scrotum (water) frog.

<i>Odontesthes bonariensis</i> Species of fish

Odontesthes bonariensis is a species of Neotropical silverside, an euryhaline fish native to fresh, brackish and salt water in south-central and southeastern South America, but also introduced elsewhere. It is often known by the common name Argentinian silverside or pejerrey, but it is not the only species of silverside in Argentina and pejerrey is also used for many other silversides. It is a commercially important species and the target of major fisheries.


  1. 1 2 3 BirdLife International (2020). "Rollandia microptera". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2020: e.T22696533A177993916. doi: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22696533A177993916.en . Retrieved 11 November 2021.