KNOW YOUR BIRDS – DUCK TALES

Ducks are water birds that have a heavy short- legged body and legs adapted for wading in the waters. This group is the largest of the waterfowls and is also the most diverse among them. Ducks are characterized by their small body size, shorter necks, narrower wings which are more pointed and wing beats which are more rapid and a horny tipped bill. The male and female birds have different plumage with the male being the proud owner of the brighter one.

Table 1

Ducks are mostly migratory and only a few are resident species. There are 33 species of ducks found in India. India has 7 resident ducks and 27 winter visitors. Some of the resident species include

  • Whistling teals
  • Spotbill duck
  • Cotton teal
  • Comb duck
  • White-winged wood duck
  • Pink-headed duck

Ducks feed on aquatic plants, weeds, insects and molluscs. They are found in small groups and are rarely solitary. On an average more than 20 species of duck, including Red-crested and Ferruginous Pochard, Spotbill Duck and rarities like the Falcated and Marbled Ducks that visit the wetlands of India every winter. Habitat loss, hunting for sport and meat render these waterfowls open to threat. Two species that need mention here are the Pink- headed duck and white-winged wood duck.

Pink headed duck (Rhondonessa caryophyllacea)

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Once an inhabitant of the lower areas north of the Ganges and west of the Brahmaputra river, this was the rarest species of waterfowl. In size, this duck was as large as the domestic duck. The head, neck and bill were bright pink in colour and the rest of the body was covered in glossy brown plumage. They were usually found in small groups around enclosed water bodies surrounded by vegetation.

Frequently figured as an emblem on sports bags, the occurrence of this species remains a mystery. The pink-headed duck has been declared to be an extinct species today, because the last reliable record of sighting this bird was in 1935. Hunting and habitat loss were the prime reasons for the bird becoming extinct.

White- winged wood duck (Cairinia scutulata)

White winged wood ducks are found in the swampy forest areas of Assam and Bangladesh. These are also found in shallow marshes and secluded pools in dense forests. They are large, blackish ducks with white wing coverts. They feed in small groups on aquatic plants, seeds, small fish, insects and molluscs.

The white-winged wood duck is fast disappearing due to habitat fragmentation. A population of less than 2500 is estimated to remain in the wild. Categorized as endangered, this is also listed under Appendix-I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Tree Duck (Dendrocygna javanica)

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These ducks are 42 cm in size with brown plumage. They    are nocturnal feeders and feed on reeds. They have a distinct whistling call and hence are also known as whistling ducks. They occur in small flocks near the edges of the ponds where there is enough vegetation.

Spotbill (Anas poecilorhyncha)

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These ducks occur in marshlands and shallow waters.  They are 60 cm in size with a blackish brown plumage and dark yellow bill with 2 orange red spots at the base. They are usually solitary waders occurring throughout India.

R. Kavitha
C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre

Source: Eco News, Vol.8, No.1, April – June 2002.

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