FEW Ducks are so little known as the Indian Wood-Duck. The Hume Collection contains but one specimen, and notes on the habits of this species are very imperfect.
After a careful investigation, I agree with Messrs. Hume and Marshall that the Indian Wood-Duck is distinct from the Wood-Duck of Java. The former has the head and neck white, spotted with black; the latter has these parts pure white, in addition to having a good deal of white on other parts of the body. These facts appear to me to be well established, both by the evidence of actual specimens and also by the descriptions of the older writers.
The changes of plumage of these Ducks, and the distinctive garb of the sexes, cannot yet be satisfactorily worked out, owing to the paucity of specimens. With regard to the Indian species, I have described the plumage of a fine mounted specimen in the galleries of the British Museum, from Mergui, as that of the adult male. A specimen in the Hume Collection from Assam is sexed as a female. It is, however, in a transitional stage of plumage, with the feathers of the breast undergoing a change from chestnut-brown to black. This is evidently a young bird, but I cannot but regard it as a young male, changing from its first plumage, that of the adult female, into that of the adult male. On this assumption—and it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion— it may be inferred that the female bird has the breast of the same dull chestnut-brown as the abdomen, whereas the adult male has the breast black and the abdomen chestnut-brown. The acquisition of further specimens, properly sexed, is necessary before the matter can be finally settled.
The Wood-Ducks are large, heavy birds. The legs are short, but rather slender. The feet are large, the middle toe being much longer than the tarsus. The wings are large, but not well adapted for rapid flight, the secondaries being extremely long and soft. These Ducks are resident in the localities they frequent, and probably they use their wings with reluctance. The bill is large and of much the same shape as that of the domestic Duck.
When swimming, the Indian Wood-Duck should be easily recognisable by its white head, white upper wing-coverts and dark body-plumage. These Ducks may not be so rare as is generally imagined, but they appear to frequent forests, where few sportsmen would expect to find Ducks.