Rob Williams

Titicaca Grebe

Rollandia microptera

NPA: Titicaca National Reserve.

Endemic: Yes, from the Lake Titicaca (secondary area) (Important Bird Area).

Characteristics

This grebe has a white throat. The sides of its face and front of its neck are also white. Its forehead and crown are dark brown with rufous tinges, and it has a sort of crest formed by upright feathers. The back of its neck, breast, and abdomen are dark brown with rufous streaks. Its beak is yellow with red on top.

Length: 40 cm / 16 in.

Threat: Endangered.

Best Time for observation: All year round.

Habitat: It can be seen usually in pairs or small groups swimming on the waters of Lake Titicaca.

Titicaca Grebe

Lake Titicaca is famed as the highest altitude navigable lake in the world, at 3,812 m (12,507 ft) elevation and with a surface area of 8,372 km2. It is the largest lake in South America and is one of the world’s most significant endoheric lakes (where water does not flow out to the sea) being fed by 5 major rivers but with water only being lost through evaporation (90%) or through the Desaguadero river (10%) which flows south into the saline Lake Poopó in Bolivia. Its 1,125 km of shoreline and 41 islands support a mosaic of reedbeds, marshes and shallows that are home to abundant life, including many endemic species of fish, arthropod, mollusc and one bird - the Titicaca Grebe. Also sometimes called the Short-winged Grebe or Titicaca Flightless Grebe, this species has lost the ability to fly but does use its wings to assist it in “running” across the water.

The Titicaca Grebe favours shallower waters around the margins of the lake, breeding in the extensive reedbeds. It has evolved to feed mainly on the small endemic pupfish of the genus Orestias. It is considered endangered and its population has declined greatly over the last century, probably primarily as the species is accidentally drowned in monofilament fishing nets, but also as introduced fish, trout and silverside, have impacted populations of the smaller endemic fish.

Conservation measures for the species, including the establishment of the Titicaca National Reserve are protecting breeding and feeding habitat. The species is quite easily seen from shore near the town of Puno or on one of the boat trips out to the famed Uros floating islands. It can also be seen in some smaller lakes that connect to Lake Titicaca in years of flood.

Text by Rob Williams.