Extinct Birds: Atitlan Grebe
by Simone Preuss
Growing up to 50 centimeters (19.7 in) in length, the Atitlán Grebe (Podilymbus gigas) was a cousin of the Pied-billed Grebe and got its name from the region it inhabited – Guatemala’s Lago de Atitlán, which is located at an altitude of 1,700 meters (5,577 ft). This water bird’s decline began in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when two invasive species were introduced to the lake: the Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) and the Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). The fish not only preyed upon the small fish and crabs on which the grebe subsisted, but even gobbled up the water bird’s own chicks!
Although, owing to conservation efforts, the Atitlán Grebe population briefly recovered in 1973, an earthquake in 1976 fractured the lakebed, and the resulting underwater drainage significantly lowered the water level. A final pair of the grebes was spotted in 1989, and soon afterwards the species was declared extinct…
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