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Ducks, waterfowl
The ancestor of nearly all farmyard breeds of domestic ducks, the ubiquitous Mallard


Argentine Red Shoveler Anas platalea

The Red shoveler is distributed throughout the southern half of South America wherever there are shallow lakes and pools with dense reed beds, marshes and lagoons.

The female in a typically duck-like brown, but the subdued coloration of the male is very attractive. The mantle (over his shoulders) from which the species gains its name, is a reddish-brown with large black spots.

The distinctive feature is, of course, the long spatula-shaped bill, so typical of shoveler ducks. As you watch, you might see these ducks sifting the surface water filtering out all sorts of small animal and plant food through lamellae, a series of tiny vertical slits between the upper and lower bills along each side.

Black East Indies Duck, Anas platyrhnchos var.

The precise origin of this " bantam " duck is not known, but it is found throughout South America. It is almost certainly descended from the ubiquitous wild mallard, having first been produced as a chance mutation then refined by selective breeding.

Classified as " semi-ornamental " because of its beautiful beetle-green colouring, the Black East Indies duck has only very limited commercial value as a laying or table bird.

The great Charles Darwin referred to these ducks as " elaborate " and noted that they bred true, that is, without any colour variation. The males are brighter than the females and have the typical curled feathers over the tip of the tail.

Other South American names include: Bueuso, Airean and Brazilian

Crested Ducks Anas platyrhnchos var.

Ducks have been domesticated from man's first attempts at agriculture.
Dozens of distinctive breeds have been developed over the ensuing millennia. The casual observer would be hard-pressed to believe that most are descended from the ubiquitous mallard, widely distributed throughout the world.
A pair of Crested Ducks Anas platyrhnchos var.

The great scientist and evolutionist Charles Darwin, was as fascinated by varieties of domestic ducks as he was by poultry and, especially, pigeons, showing that all the many breeds were descended from a common, single species.

The origin of the Crested duck is unclear. Some authorities have pointed out that clear examples can be seen in the work of some of the Old Dutch Masters paintings from the 16th century.

The characteristic crest was almost certainly produced as a chance mutation or " sport in the first instance; selective breeding by enthusiasts has developed the crests into very elaborate chrysanthemum-like arrangements on the ducks.

Duck tipping its beak into its preen gland
The " preen gland ", or oil gland is found just above the base of the tail, and gives the plumage its " waterproof " quality. The tip of the beak is momentarily dipped into it before wiping a droplet of oil over the rest of the feathers - all birds do this, but it is very important to ducks for obvious reasons.

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata

The wild Muscovy duck originates in the wooded wetlands of South America, where both sexes are a similar, glossy-black colour with a greenish/purplish gloss and some white on the wings.

The domesticated Muscovy duck is much heavier, with larger carbuncles ( the fleshy growth around the eyes ), and occurs in a variety of colours including black and white, and lavender and white. The drake is larger than the female, with an erectile crest and mane, and prominent facial " warts ". They are common domestic birds throughout many parts of the world including Africa.

In the wild, they commonly roost in trees and even spend some of the daytime perched in trees. In captivity, they sometimes make their nests above the ground in holes in trees, barns or even in nest-boxes erected for species such as owls or jackdaws.

Food is mainly vegetable, but close perusal of our birds will soon show them ( especially the ducklings ) pursuing all manner of insects which chance by. In the wild they are known to break open the nests of termites with their powerful beaks.

Generally speaking these ducks are not vocal. The ducks utter a soft quack when communicating with their ducklings. The drakes hiss, especially when threatened or displaying to other males or females. At these times, the male engages in a rhythmic bobbing of the head forwards and backwards, with neck outstretched, crest raised and wings partially raised. The long tail is vibrated in a manner which appears like " wagging " to us.

Lesser Bahama Pintail or White-cheeked Pintail
Anas bahamensis bahamensis

A very popular species in water fowl collections, which is now found in several colour varieties. The sexes are fairly similar in plumage, but the drake is larger than the duck.

The main features are the diagnostic, white cheeks and the typical, long-pointed or " pin " tail.

If you are lucky, you may see the drake display to the female by vigorous head-shakes, then tilting forward in the water and, peacock-like spreading his tiny tail whilst tucking his head and neck back. Females also display to encourage their mates.

Although hardy in the UK, in the wild this pintail is found only in tropical and sub-tropical regions of America. It breeds in the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Lesser Antilles, south to Guadeloupe, Curacao, Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, and North Brazil.

Numbers are now decreasing throughout its range due to excessive hunting and poaching.

It's preferred habitat is well-vegetated fresh water ponds and swamps where it feeds on all sorts of plant matter - roots, stems, and seeds - with some aquatic insects and snails.


Proposed Cull of Ruddy Ducks

A government sponsored cull of Ruddy Ducks is about to start in Britain, with the Scottish end focused on Kilconquhar Loch, in Fife.
This "avian ethnic cleansing" is designed - wrongly in my view - to reduce or eliminate the spread of this harmless little North American Diving Duck.
The bird has now spread all over Western Europe and is threatening to genetically take over by interbreeding with the closely-related and highly-endangered Whiteheaded Duck in Spain.
This particular population is probably a lost cause.
What conservationists are, however, desperate to prevent quite understandably - is the Eastern spread of the Ruddy Duck into the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, but in this they are also probably too late.
This little duck is already happily ensconced in countries like Slovakia and Romania and merrily fraternising with the natives, in this case, once again, the Whiteheaded Duck.
But why is a cull of this attractive little duck in Scotland justified?
It is inadequate, as one RSPB spokesman claimed, to state that: "It is all very unfortunate, but it's a classic example of how it's better if you don't move the world's wildlife around.
"If you leave it where it has evolved naturally over thousands of years then a balance is reached.
"That balance is being upset here and that's whv we must do something about it." I am not alone in believing this effort to be futile and unjustified.

External Resources

Ringed Teal & British Waterfowl Association