109. THE PIN-TAIL.
Dafila acuta, (LINNAEUS).
Outer web of the primaries blackish ; inner web drab, with a blackish tip. Axillaries white, mottled or barred with brown.
Wing over nine inches in length.
Speculum green or bronze with a cinnamon bar above it; or simply mottled brown, between two narrow white bands; in either case followed by a quill, the outer web of which is white.
Bill distinctly wider near the tip than at the base.
MALE:—Speculum brilliant; under tail-coverts black; a band of white on the side of the neck; middle tail-feathers lengthened.
FEMALE :—Speculum brown ; under tail-coverts marked with brown; middle tail-feathers not lengthened.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Sanh, Sinkpar, Hind.; Kokarali, Drighush, Sind.; Digoonch, Nepal; Dighons, Sholoncho, Bengal; Laitunga1 Manipur; Tau-bay, Burm.
THE Pin-tail occurs, as a winter visitor, in every -portion of the Indian Empire from Kashmir and the Punjab to Assam, and thence to the extreme southern point of India and Ceylon on the one hand, and to Burma, at least as far as the latitude of Moulmein, on the other. On the east, Lieut. J. H. Whitehead informs me, it extends to Kengtung in the Shan States, where he has shot it.
The Pin-tail has a very wide range, being found throughout the greater part of the Northern Hemisphere. In summer it is a circumpolar bird, breeding between the 60th and 70th degrees of north latitude and occasionally farther south. In the winter it is found as low down as Central America, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, Persia, India, Burma and China.
The Pin-tail commences to arrive in Kashmir and the Himalayas as early as the end of September, but it does not become generally common in the plains till November. It commences its return journey to the north in March, a few birds remaining till the beginning of April.
The Pin-tail is a sociable bird and assembles in large flocks, but it is somewhat capricious in its choice of localities. Usually it is met with on large sheets of water or tanks on which there is a mixture of clear water and islands of floating weeds. It also frequents the sea-coast. It does not appear to be found on the large rivers in any quantities. Pin-tails feed a good deal at night, and they then betake themselves to shallow swamps and even to rice-fields. The Pin-tail is very shy, and its flight is extremely rapid. When once disturbed it seldom returns to the same piece of water until some hours have passed. It is one of the best Ducks for the table.
Mr. Hume brings to notice an interesting fact about these Ducks. He says:—" It is worth noting, because it is a peculiarity almost confined to this species, that during the cold season one continually comes across large flocks consisting entirely of males. I cannot say that I ever noticed similar flocks of females, but this may be because the females do not attract the eye similarly, and are not equally readily discriminated at any distance, but 'bull-picnics' I have noted, times without number, as a speciality of the Pin-tail."
This curious habit is corroborated by Mr. G. T. Booth in his " Rough Notes." He writes :—" I never noticed large mixed bodies of males and females, seldom more than ten or a dozen being in company when both sexes were represented, though thirty, forty, or even fifty drakes were often met with by themselves."
Mr. Hume further observes :—" The Pin-tail, when undisturbed, is a silent bird by day, and rarely utters any sound, even when feeding, though I have, when lying up pretty close to them, heard a little low chatteration going on, more like the low clucking of hens than anything else. But when alarmed by day, and pretty constantly by night, they utter their peculiar soft quack,—such a note as one might expect a Mallard, not quite sure whether he meant to speak or not, to emit—quite different from the sharp quack of the Gadwall, softer and less strident than that of the Mallard, but still not at all feeble, on the contrary audible at a great distance."
Montagu describes the notes of the Pintail as being " extremely soft and inward; the courting note is always attended with a jerk of the head; the other greatly resembles that of a very young kitten.
In the spring the male indicates his softer passions by suddenly raising his body upright in the water, and bringing his bill close to his breast, uttering at the same time a soft note. This gesticulation is frequently followed by a singular jerk of the hinder part of the body, which in turn is thrown up above the water."
Mr. Seebohm thus describes the habits of this Duck :—" The long neck and long pointed tail give to the Pin-tail a somewhat more slender appearance than that of most of its kind. It belongs to the fresh-water group of Ducks, breeding in the midst of moors, lakes, rivers, and swamps; but on migration and in winter spending most of its time on the seashore, to feed on the mud-flats at low tide. It is one of the earliest Ducks to arrive in spring, and one of the latest to leave in autumn. ... In its habits it most closely resembles the Mallard, feeding, like the other fresh-water Ducks, on insects and mollusks, and partly on the ends of grass and the buds of water-plants ; but, like the Mallard, it frequents the stubble-fields in autumn to pick up the fallen grain. Its voice closely resembles that of the Mallard and Shoveller, but on the whole it is a silent bird. This may be accounted for by its extreme wariness; it takes such great care to avoid danger, that its alarm-note of quaak is not often required. Its call-note is a low hah; and Naumann says that, in the pairing-season, the male may be seen swimming round the female uttering a deep cliik, which, if the observer be fortunate enough to be sufficiently near to hear it, is preceded by a sound like the drawing in of the breath, and followed by a low grating note."
Writing of his experiences in Siberia he goes on to say :—" Early the next morning the sight that presented itself to our view was a most interesting one. As far as we could see, the strip of open water on each side of the ice in the Zylma was black with Ducks, and overhead Ducks were flying about in every direction like a swarm of bees. To estimate the number at half a million would probably be to guess under the mark. They were almost all of them Pin-tails, but many Teal and Wigeon were among them. In spite of their enormous numbers they were wild enough. We had no difficulty in watching them through our glasses so as to identify the species ; but when it came to getting within shot, we found the only way was to conceal ourselves behind a willow-stump and take them as they flew over. After the weary waiting for summer to come, with comparatively few birds to watch except the flocks of Snow-Buntings, Shore-Larks, and Lapland Buntings, it was most exciting to find ourselves in the midst of such abundance of bird-life. . . . As soon as the snow had melted, the Ducks, or those of them which remained, began to breed. The nests of the Pin-tail were placed in the grass among the shrubs in dry places, generally at some distance from the water; they were deep, and well lined with dead grass and sedge, and, when the full clutch was laid, contained plenty of down. We took the first eggs on the 5th June."
The eggs of the Pin-tail are seven to ten in number, and they are of a dull green or greenish buff colour. Some eggs are perfectly elliptical, others slightly pointed at one end. They vary from 2 to 2.25 in length, and from 1.5 to 1.6 in breadth. The down is dark brown with a white centre.
The adult male has the whole head and the foreneck rich brown, the feathers of the crown with dark centres, those of the other parts more or less minutely mottled. The hindneck is blackish, bordered in front and at the sides by a white band. The sides of the lower part of the neck, the breast, and the upper part of the abdomen are usually pure white, but these parts are frequently tinged with ferruginous. The lower part of the abdomen is minutely vermiculated with brown. The sides of the body are beautifully vermiculated with black and pale buff, the lower feathers very much lengthened; a large patch on each flank is yellowish buff. The under tail-coverts are black, some of the lateral feathers margined with buff. The axillaries are white, mottled with brown; the under wing-coverts ashy brown with narrow whitish margins. The mantle, the back, and the upper scapulars are vermiculated with black and buff. The outer scapulars are chiefly black, forming a large patch of this colour. The long, pointed scapulars are chiefly black, variegated with long lines of buff. The rump is dark brown, irregularly vermiculated and mottled with buff. The upper tail-coverts are blackish on the outer, pale buff on the inner, web. The middle tail-feathers are black; the others are brownish on the outer, drab or pale buff on the inner, web. The upper wing-coverts are dark grey, the lower series broadly tipped with cinnamon. The primaries are dark brown on the outer web and tip of the inner; light drab on the inner web. The outer secondaries are changeable metallic green or bronze, tipped with a double band, the upper portion of which is black, and the terminal portion white, frequently tinged with cinnamon. The secondary next to the quills composing the speculum is black, with a pale buff band next the shaft. The inner, long secondaries are black, with a broad drab margin.
In post-nuptial plumage, the drake resembles the female very closely, but he retains the full speculum of the winter plumage.
The adult female has the forehead and crown reddish brown, streaked with black. The remainder of the head and the whole of the neck is pale fulvous with numerous small black streaks. The whole lower plumage is greyish white, each feather with an ill-defined dark centre. The sides of the body and the under tail-coverts are marked with crescentic lines of brown and white, parallel to the margin of the feathers. The axillaries are white, coarsely barred with brown. The under wing-coverts are brown, margined with white. The mantle, the back and the scapulars are dark brown or black, barred with undulating or curved bands of ful¬vous. The rump and upper tail-coverts are black, each feather margined with pale fulvous or fulvous white at the sides, but not at the extreme tip. The tail-feathers are dark brown, diagonally barred with fulvous and edged paler. The upper wing-coverts are blackish, narrowly margined with pale fulvous, the lower series conspicuously tipped with white, the tips forming a band. The primaries are dark brown on the outer web and the tip of the inner, light drab on the inner web. The outer secondaries are mottled black and brown, with some admixture of fulvous, and broadly tipped with white. The inner, long secondaries are brown, margined with fulvous.
Young birds, of both sexes, moult into the plumage of the adult female, and the young males soon commence to show signs of the adult male plumage.
Male : length about 25 ; wing about 11 ; tail 7 1/2. Female: length about 21 ; wing about 9 1/2; tail 4 1/4. In the male, the bill is black with the sides of the upper mandible blue; in the female, the bill is greyish black above, reddish brown beneath. The irides are brown; the legs and feet are greyish plumbeous, blackish on the central portion of the webs. Weight up to 2 3/4 lb.