Anas boscas


Anas boscas.

Nil-sir, Hindustani.

Although mallard are far from being generally distributed over our Eastern Empire, as being the wild ducks of the Northern Hemisphere generally, and the ancestors of most of our tame ducks, they deserve to head the list of typical ducks, being also themselves the type of all and exemplifying several points which must be referred to by anyone dealing with the group.

The lovely green head, white collar, chocolate breast, curled black tail, and splendid wing-bar of blue and white are so distinctive of the mallard drake that little need be said about his plumage, which has for the most part a sober pencilled-grey coloration, beautifully setting off the brighter tints. But the female, whose plumage, as is usual in the most typical ducks, is of a mottled-brown tint, is naturally much like several others; her distinguishing mark is the blue, white-edged wing-bar which she shares with the drake. This blue ribbon-mark will distinguish her from all our ducks but the Chinese grey duck or yellow nib {Anas zonorhyncha), which bird has a black bill with a yellow tip, and is much greyer in tint, with a dark sooty belly. The bill of the female mallard is dull orange, with a large, dull black patch occupying most of the centre part; the drake's is a sort of sage-green, sometimes verging on yellow.

This point is worth mentioning, because when the drake goes into undress plumage the colour of his bill does not change as in some species at this time. In plumage the mallard in this "eclipse" stage is very like the female, but not exactly, the crown of the head and the lower back down to the tail being black, not streaked with brown. Young drakes assume a plumage similar to this for the first feathering, though at first sight all the brood look much alike. The undress plumage is assumed after breed¬ing, about June, and lost about September; it comes on at the time when all the great wing-quills are moulted, so that the birds cannot fly for some weeks. This peculiarity of putting on a plumage more or less like that of the female characterizes most ducks in the Northern Hemisphere when the sexes have a very distinct plumage; it is curious that it is carried in the summer, when most birds are in the highest feather; but the facts that it is really a winter plumage in the cotton-teal, and almost so in the garganey, and that ducks as a matter of course start courting in the autumn as soon as they get their gay plumage, suggest that it is really a winter plumage that has had a tendency to be shifted earlier and earlier till it is now a summer one.

Mallard weigh in the wild state in India about two and a half to three pounds in the case of drakes, and even up to four ; females are about two, and may approach three. Domestic ducks in India are not much bigger than this, though they may look so on account of their coarseness and loose feathering; as they often resemble mallard in colour it is just as well to be careful how one shoots at unusually unsuspicious-looking ducks until one is sure they really are wild.

Wild mallard in India are not as a rule to be expected away from the North-west, and even there it is only in the extreme end of that region that they are abundant; and south of Bombay they are unknown. As a straggler the mallard occurs all along our Northern Provinces as far as Mandalay ; in Cachar, Mr. B. C. S. Baker reports it as "not very rare." One wants to be quite sure, however, of any given bird being really a mallard when it is shot out of the North-west Province; of course the full-plumaged "drake is unmistakable, but there are several ducks very like the female, the yellow-nib even having the blue wing-bar as above noted. As mallard breed in Kashmir they often have not very far to come to get to their winter quarters in some cases, though many winter in Kashmir ,itself; in Sind they are very common, and it is only here that hundreds may be seen in a flock; elsewhere the parties are small, and odd specimens, where the species is rare, may be found-associating with other kinds of duck.

The habits of this duck are thoroughly well known, as almost everyone, even if not a sportsman, has had ample opportunities of observing the bird in a protected state in parks. It is not highly specialized in any way, but a thoroughly robust and vigorous bird ; it swims, walks, and flies, with ease and efficiency, but in no separate department equals some other species— for instance, it cannot fly so well as a gadwall, run so well as a sheldrake, or swim so fast as a pochard. It dives fairly well to save its life, or in play, but seldom does so to get food; when I have seen this done it has always been by females or young birds, never by old drakes; but the action is a rare one even with the other sex when adult. Females, however, are also said to be more cautious and cunning in concealing themselves after being wounded than males.

When a pair are together on the water, the drake waits for the duck to rise first; his note, a faint wheezing quaykh, is very distinct from the duck's well-known quack or rather quaak; but though this was pointed out by White of Selborne more than a century ago, it does not seem to have been fully realized even now that the same distinction of voice applies to a large number of the ducks, and that the two notes in these cannot be interchanged, the drake having a large bulb in the windpipe at its bifurcation towards the lungs, which absolutely modifies the sound and prevents him giving the female call, while similarly she cannot imitate his. In the breeding season the mallard drake whistles as well as wheezes, and the duck talks affectionately to him in short staccato quacks, with sidelong noddings of the head ; he for his part plays up to her by rearing up with his head bent down, then dropping on the water and jerking up his stern, at the same time displaying by a slight expansion of the plumage the bar on his wings. Anyone may see these antics among domestic ducks—common ones, I mean, not Muscovy ducks, which have very different ways, and are descended from the South-American Gairina moschata.

Mallard, in conformity with their usual unspecialized ways, are not particular about the water they frequent so long as it affords safety during time of rest, or food when they are in search of this. Thus they will frequent small dirty ponds or big open broads; feed on land as well as in water, and by day as well as by night. In fact, I think many ducks are chiefly made nocturnal by our persecution; I rather fancy that the mandarin is really the only true night bird in the family, as he is habitually very quiet during the day even in captivity. The food of mallard is pretty nearly everything : corn, herbage, roots, worms, or any other small animal life, berries, acorns, &c., &c. ; as long as there is plenty, they are not particular. They are themselves almost always excellent, at any rate in India.

They breed in Kashmir, in May and June, making a well-concealed, down-lined nest among ground cover, as a rule; now and then among water-plants, rarely in trees ; the eggs are usually eleven and their grey-green colour is well known. The ducklings are clad in black and yellow down. The Indian native names, besides Nilsir, are Lilg in Nepal, with the female form Lilgahi.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Anas boscas
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Anas platyrhynchos
Term name: 

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