Love is a battlefield, and in the case of the hooded grebe, that battle takes place on the dance floor. These endangered freshwater divers have a mating ritual that is not only extremely intricate, but also highly entertaining. And lucky for us, we now have it on film.
Not much is known about the hooded grebe, Podiceps gallardoi, as these aquatic birds were discovered only 43 years ago in the frigid waters of Patagonia. Though they tend to keep to themselves, footage of them is incredibly rare, and what was just recently released is quite revealing, to say the least.
The birds’ dancing rituals include rigorous displays of head banging, sporadic diving and some pretty intense stare-downs, but showmanship is only one aspect of these passionate performances. As it turns out, grebes are rather picky when it comes to choosing their partners. So aside from earning attention from prospective mates, these showdowns also allow the birds to critique each other’s choreography in an attempt to find the fittest partners—those with the sickest moves. According to the report released by BirdLife International, suitors with more rhythm, stamina and coordination tend to fare better than those who, well, flap to their own beat.
As wild and whimsical as these mating rituals may seem, those involved are actually in a grave predicament. Hooded grebes are critically endangered, and their numbers have been on the decline year after year. It is estimated that only 400 mate-pairs remain.
American minks were introduced to Patagonia during the height of mink-fur’s popularity in the 1930s, and the invasive species has become enemy #1 for grebes. A few minks escaped from traders by accident, and flourished without predatory competition. They’ve wreaked havoc on the birds ever since. Efforts to control mink populations, and to prevent further human interference like commercial fishing and corporate dam construction, are just a few small steps toward saving one of nature’s more theatrical species.