103. THE ANDAMAN DUCK.
Polionetta albigularis, (HUME).*
Primaries uniformly black.
Under wing-coverts black, with a median white patch. Axillaries white.
Speculum black, divided into two portions by a longitudinal streak of metallic green or coppery bronze.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—None known.
THE Andaman Duck, or, as Messrs. Hume and Marshall term it, the Oceanic Teal, in the belief that this species had a very wide distribution, ranging from the Andamans to New Zealand, is strictly confined, not only to the Andaman Islands, but apparently to a very small portion of this group only. Mr. Hume discovered this Duck in 1873 during his memorable voyage to the Andamans, and it was observed by him and his party only on the coast and creeks of the South Andaman Island. It is improbable, how¬ever, that this little Duck should be so restricted in its range, and hereafter it may be found in the adjacent islands.
Few persons have had an opportunity of observing this Duck. The late Mr. Davison thus described the habits of this species :—" This 'Teal' is said to have been very common, at one time, in the Andamans, but it is far from being so now. It appears to frequent alike both salt and fresh water. During the day it either perches among the mangroves or settles down in some shady spot on the bank of a stream; when wounded it does not attempt at first to dive, but swims for the nearest cover, in which it hides itself; but when hard pressed it dives, but does not remain long under water, and appears to get soon exhausted. It feeds by night in the fresh-water ponds, and I was informed that it is to be seen during the rains in small flocks in the morning and evening in the paddy flats about Aberdeen. Sometimes in going up the creeks a pair will slip off the bank into the water, and keep swimming about twenty yards ahead of the boat, only rising when hard pressed, but they are very wary when in flocks. I could learn nothing about the breeding of this species. The only note I have heard them utter is a low whistle, and this apparently only at night when they are feeding."
Mr. Hume adds the following remarks : —" In the day time you commonly see them in pairs, occasionally in flocks of from twenty to thirty, high up in some densely mangrove-bordered creek, where the water is fresh; but at night they leave these, and collecting in moderate-sized flocks, resort to fresh-water ponds or paddy fields to feed. When wounded it sometimes dives most vigorously, not indeed remaining long under water, but by no means getting soon exhausted. On the contrary, it will often compel you to fire a second shot before you retrieve it. It swims well, and runs through the jungle at a great pace. Its flight appears to be fairly rapid, but they are seldom seen on the wing except at night, and then it is difficult to judge accurately of this.
"They are not, I should say, wild or wary birds; they do not leave a place at the first shot, and Davison has got as many as eight by successive shots out of the same flock, the birds flying about and settling again at short distances. But they are eminently birds of a retiring habit, and very soon abandon, as a day haunt, any place which civilised or semi-civilised men begin to frequent.
" A whole flock is sometimes seen during the day time perched on the mangroves of some salt-water creek; but they are certainly, by preference, the denizens of forest-embowered fresh water."
Mr A. L. Butler, in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, thus records his experiences with this Duck :—
" When I arrived at Port Blair in May, these ' Teal' were in good-sized flocks, resorting principally, at low tide, to two little rocky islets up the harbour, known as Bird Island and Oyster Island. I did not go after them at that time myself, not having a boat; a fair, though not large, number were killed by some of the officers stationed here. I believe eleven was the result of four barrels on one occasion ! As the monsoon commenced and the harbour became rougher, at the beginning of June, these flocks of 'Teal' broke up into smaller parties of five or six to a dozen or so, and retired to the creeks and dyke-intersected marshes, a little inland, near Bamboo Flat and Port Mouatt. Towards the end of June these small parties commenced to break up into pairs; about this time I shot several, and in the paired birds I found the testes of the drakes enlarged, but the ovaries of the females were, as yet, in ordinary condition. In the ' Game Birds of India ' Mr. Hume mentions a single nest being found in August, and I should think that August or the end of July would be the usual time of laying. I am afraid I am not likely to find a nest, as there are so many hundreds of acres of suitable breeding ground, and the birds are comparatively few.
"The 'Oceanic Teal' feed a good deal in the paddy fields at night; under cover of darkness, too, a few birds often drop into small tanks at Aberdeen within a few yards of bungalows and buildings. When in flocks they are very wild, but in pairs, on the small channels among the marshes, I found them very tame. I have often been able to creep up to the water's edge and watch a pair swimming quietly about within ten yards of me for some time. On one occasion I came right on to a pair under an overhanging bush, and they only fluttered, like waterhens, along the surface for twenty yards or so, then pitched and commenced swimming away, so that I was able to kill one on the water and the other as it rose, from where I stood. Of course birds that have been shot at a bit go clean away at the first alarm. On these creeks they associate with the common ' Whistling Teal,' and I have watched the two species in close company on the water, though the 'Oceanic Teal' separate from the others when put up. The only thing I noticed about them, which I do not think has been recorded, is that they have a ' quacking' note as well as a low whistle. One day a party of eight or ten, at which some shots had been fired, after wheeling round and round overhead for some time, pitched on a narrow channel, within thirty yards of me, as I stood concealed in the bushes on the bank. I watched them for some minutes, when another pair, frightened by some distant shots, came scurrying over: the birds on the water all twisted their heads up and set up a loud rapid quacking call-note which they kept up for some minutes; the newcomers circled round several times, but probably seeing the top of my topee, concluded not to join their companions in their fancied security. The flight of this ' Teal' is fairly fast; occasionally when they have been kept on the wing for some time a party will stoop down to the surface of a creek as though they meant to pitch, and then change their minds and rise again. When executing this manoeuvre they rush past at a tremendous pace. The broad white wing-bar, in this species, is most conspicuous when the bird is on the wing.
" Winged birds promptly swim for the nearest cover, into which they scuttle off at a great pace, and are generally lost without a dog. One I shot swam steadily along in front of a Pathan convict who was swimming after it in the capacity of a retriever, and though hard pressed made no attempt to dive till it reached the bank, where it was caught. One of the officers stationed here has a live bird in captivity which was pinioned by a shot some months ago. It thrives well on paddy, but has not become very tame. It spends most of the day asleep, with its head resting on the plumage of the back. The local sportsmen have christened them ' Gibberies.'
" They are rather difficult birds to skin, being very fat, and having, for a Duck, rather a tender skin. They seem to average about 15 oz. in weight."
A single egg of this species was taken by Captain Wimberley in August. The nest was composed of grass and was placed in a paddy field. The egg is described as being a broad oval in shape, with a smooth shell, devoid of gloss, and of a delicate cream colour. It measured 1.93 by 1.43.
The forehead and crown are dark-brown, becoming paler and greyish-brown On the hindneck. The whole lower, and the edge of the upper, eyelid are covered with small white feathers. The sides of the head are mottled with dark-brown and fulvous. The chin, the throat, and the foreneck are white ; the cheeks, the lower part of the sides of the head and also the sides of the neck are dull white, mottled with fulvous. The mantle, the back, the scapulars, and the upper tail-coverts are brown, each feather with a narrow rufous margin. The feathers of the rump are dark-brown, with hardly a trace of paler margins. The tail is plain brown. All the small upper wing-coverts are dark-brown ; the greater coverts white, with a buff tinge, forming a conspicuous patch or bar above the speculum. The primaries are uniformly black, both webs of the feathers being of quite the same shade. The first secondary is brown with a broad white margin on the outer web; the succeeding shorter secondaries are brown on the concealed inner web, black with a slight greenish gloss on the outer web, except two or three feathers in the middle of the black patch thus formed, which are of a brilliant green or coppery bronze on the outer web. All these secondaries are also tipped broadly with pale buff. The longer inner secondaries are pale brown. The whole lower plumage and the sides of the breast and body are dull rufous, each feather with a large round brown spot; these spots being very distinct on the breast, but somewhat blurred on the other parts. The axillaries are pure white, and the under wing-coverts are black with a white patch in the middle of the lower margin.
In the large series of this Duck in the British Museum, there are three specimens which exhibit a certain amount of white on the face. A pair, shot in May, have a considerable space round the eye white, and they have also a patch of white on either side of the base of the upper mandible, and some white marks between these patches and the eye. A third bird, a male shot in December, resembles the above pair, but has, in addition, an indistinct white band behind the eye.
Male : length about 17 ; wing nearly 8; tail 3. Female : length nearly 16; wing 7 1/4; tail 2 3/4. The bill is plumbeous, the lower mandible tinged with pink in some cases ; irides reddish brown ; legs and feet plumbeous, the webs darker. Weight up to 1 lb.
* Nettion albigulare of the British Museum Catalogue.