102. THE GREY DUCK.
Polionetta poecilorhyncha, (FORSTER).*
Primaries nearly uniformly blackish, the inner webs being slightly paler than the outer.
Under wing-coverts and axillaries white.
Speculum metallic green or greenish blue, between two double bands of black and white; the outer web of the two long secondaries next the speculum white.
Tip and base of the upper mandible yellow or orange.
VERNACULAR NAMES,:—Hunjur, Sind.; Garam-pai, Bata, Gugral, Hind.; Naddun, Nepal Terai; Neer-bathoo, Tamil; Neer-kolee, Canarese ; Dod-sarle-haki, Mysore ; Kara, Manipur ; Tau-bay, Burmese.
THE Grey, or Spotted-billed, Duck, occurs as a resident, and more or less abun dantly, in every part of India, from the base of the Himalayas down to Cape Comorin, and in Ceylon. It has not yet been observed in Kashmir, nor in any portion of the Himalayas. Eastwards, this Duck extends through Assam ; and in a southerly direction, through Sylhet, Cachar, and Manipur to Arrakan and Upper Burma. Captain F. T. Williams shot this Duck in the Chindwin river. It is found in the swamps and tanks near the banks of the Irrawaddy, quite down to Mandalay ; and Captain T. S. Johnson and party, during one Christmas week, obtained ten of these Ducks near Mandalay, out of a total bag of 562 water fowl, showing that it is by no means rare in that part. I obtained a specimen not far from Lashio, in the Northern Shan States. Major G. Rippon informs me that this species occurs in all parts of the Southern Shan States, and Lieut. J. H. Whitehead writes to me stating that he got the Spot-bill as far east as Kengtung. In these instances, I do not think that the Chinese Grey Duck has been mistaken for the Indian species. I did not observe this Duck in any part of Pegu, but Blyth records it from Tenasserim, where, how¬ ever, it has not been met with in recent years.
The Grey Duck is not known to occur anywhere outside the limits of the Indian. Empire.
This fine Duck frequents ponds, tanks, and small lakes by preference, but is also to be found at times in streams and on the larger rivers. It prefers well-wooded and reed-margined pieces of water to any others. When ponds dry up in one part of the country, it proceeds to another part, and it is only in this sense that the Grey Duck can be termed migratory. It is found, as a rule, singly or in pairs, but on large pieces of water flocks of from twenty to eighty may be observed. This Duck is not at all shy, and is frequently to be seen quite close to villages; and I once shot one in a small drinking-water tank, not more than forty yards square, close to a monastery, where the villagers were in the habit of coming all through the day to fill their water-pots. When on large pieces of water, they are not difficult to approach in a boat. They rise heavily, but fly swiftly when they are fairly off. When wounded, they dive very cleverly, and often escape capture, but they are also frequently drowned among the weeds. The food of the Grey Duck consists chiefly of vegetable matter, grain, grass, and the roots of water-plants, and also insects, worms, and small frogs.
With regard to the notes of the Grey Duck Messrs. Hume and Marshall observe :—" Their voices, both when chattering to each other when at rest or feeding, and when uttering their quacks of alarm, closely resemble those of the Mallard, but may always be distinguished by a somewhat greater sharpness; they are not so sonorous, but they seem to be emitted with greater force."
Mr. Hume met with this Duck in Manipur, and found it so tame that it is worth while to quote his experiences. He says :—"This is the Duck of Manipur, common in every pond and jheel, and in many mere ditches fifteen or twenty feet wide, and excessively abundant and very tame on the Logtak lake. While the rest of the wild fowl at the lake were exceptionally wild, the Grey Ducks were tamer than I have ever seen them elsewhere. As a rule they only swam a little out of the way of the boats, and very seldom, if ever, dreamt of rising unless these approached within thirty yards of them. As I had a good many persons with me who eat wild fowl and were glad to get these, I daily, when at the lake, shot from six to ten Grey Ducks, but I could have shot twenty or thirty of these daily, all sitting shots, at distances between thirty-five and forty yards. Nay, sometimes a pair or two floating leisurely just outside some thin rush bed have allowed the boat to pass quite unconcernedly within even ten or fifteen yards."
There are few places apparently in the range of this Duck where it does nqt breed. The nest is usually placed on the bank of some pond or canal on the ground, among thick grass, and is com-posed of rushes, grass, and feathers, with a little down. Sometimes the nest is placed on a branch of a tree, drooping near the ground, and entirely concealed by the surrounding vegetation. In Sind, this Duck appears to nest in April and May ; in the Punjab and the North-west Provinces in August; in Gujarat in October, and in Mysore in November. Probably it lays twice a year in most places.
Captain Woods communicated the following note to Mr. Stuart Baker regarding the breeding of this Duck in Manipur :—" Here the birds generally pair about the beginning of April; but I have found a nest in a flooded dhan khet as late as October. The nests are composed of grass and feathers, the latter of which the parent birds pluck from their own breasts. I have found as many as fourteen eggs in a nest, though the usual number is ten. The parent bird sits very close when incubating, and when alarmed feigns injury to a wing, as do others of the family."
The eggs are short ellipses in shape, and measure about 2.15 by 1.7. When first laid, they are white or greyish white; after incubation, yellowish or brownish.
The adult has the forehead, the crown, and a band through the eye, dark-brown, streaked paler. A band over the eye, the sides of the head and the whole neck are dull white, minutely streaked with brown; the chin and throat similar, but with fewer streaks, sometimes streakless. The mantle, the sides of the breast, the lower plumage and the sides of the body are white or fulvous white, turning to dark brown on the lower part of the abdomen, each feather with a large roundish well-defined brown spot; the under tail-coverts black. The under wing-coverts and the axillaries are pure white. The upper back, the scapulars and the lesser wing-coverts are blackish, each feather with a pale fulvous margin. The lower back, the rump and the upper tail-coverts are black; the tail-feathers black, narrowly margined with fulvous. The greater wing-coverts are brown, terminated with white and broadly tipped with black. The primaries are blackish, the inner webs slightly paler than the outer. The outer secondaries have the inner webs brown, the outer brilliant metallic green or greenish blue, according to the light in which the wing is viewed, terminated by a broad black band and tipped with a narrower white band. The inner secondaries are dark brown, the first two longer ones, next the speculum, with the whole outer web pure white.
The young duckling, on assuming its first feathered plumage, resembles the adult, but has the spots on the lower plumage less distinct.
Male : length about 24; wing 11 ; tail rather more than 4. The female is rather smaller. The bill is black, the base of the upper mandible orange, the tips of both mandibles varying from yellow to orange ; the tip of the nail, black; irides brown ; legs and feet bright red. In young birds the base of the bill, instead of being red, is brown, and the legs are orange. Weight up to 3 1/4 lb.
* Anas poecilorhyncha of the British Museum Catalogue.