When is a waterbird not a waterbird?
All our UK grebes win high marks for good looks, from the neat, cute Little Grebe, through the striking Slavonian and Black-necked Grebe, to the now-familiar Great Crested Grebe. You might expect them to be closely related to the divers, given that the two families turn up in the same sorts of habitats, and share a number of behavioural and structural traits. In fact, though, this is merely an example of convergent evolution, of which much more later. So, are they related to wildfowl, or other waterbirds? Well, not really, although their closest relatives are also associated with water. In fact, recent studies suggest that grebes have at least 11 morphological traits in common with flamingos – something to ponder when you see flocks of bright pink Greater Flamingoes on coastal lagoons in Spain and Portugal, with Little Grebes dabbling around near their feet. Tracing the family line further, both grebes and flamingos are related to doves and sandgrouse, in the taxonomic clade Columbea.
A QUESTION OF SCALE Little Grebes are dwarfed by flamingos, but they’re actually very close relatives