110. THE GADWALL.
Chaulelasmus streperus, (LINNAEUS).
Outer web of the primaries blackish ; inner web drab, with a blackish tip.
Axillaries pure white.
Speculum brown turning to black, and followed by several quills, the outer webs of which are white. Most of the wing-coverts of the greater series black, forming a large patch above the speculum.
Bill of uniform width throughout.
MALE : Under tail-coverts black. FEMALE: Under tail-coverts fulvous, marked with brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Mila, Bhuar, Beykhur, Hind.; Burd, Sind. ; Mail, Nepal; Peeing-hans, Bengal.
THE Gadwall has been observed, as a winter visitor, in most parts of the peninsula of India, from the Himalayas down to Mysore. South of this, and in Ceylon, it has not yet been met with. It ascends the Himalayas up to 5000 or 6000 feet.
This Duck extends through Bengal and Assam, and has been obtained in Tipperah, Sylhet, Manipur and Arrakan. Captain F. T. Williams informs me that it occurs on the Chindwin river. Captain T. S. Johnson found it common near Mandalay, and Major G. Rippon writes to me that, in his opinion, this is the commonest duck in Upper Burma, Teal alone excepted. I have not heard of its occurrence south of the Mandalay District.
The Gadwall, like many other species of the True Ducks, has a very wide distribution, but does not reach quite so far north in summer, being found up to the Arctic Circle, but, as far as we know, never within it. It occurs alike in North America, Europe and Asia. In the winter it ranges south to Mexico, to Northern Africa, South-western Asia, India, Burma and China.
Gadwalls may be seen in the Himalayas towards the end of September, but they are not fully established in the plains till the end of October or the beginning of November. They return north in March and April, and they are sometimes still to be met with early in May in the North-west.
Writing in the " Game Birds," Mr, Hume thus describes the habits of the Gadwall:—" They are, I think, essentially fresh-water birds (I have never seen them really on the sea-coast), but having secured fresh water, they do not seem to have much preference as to locality, and you find them equally in the largest rivers and the smallest hill-streams, in huge lakes and small ponds, in open water (as at the Sambhur lake) where not a reed or rush is to be seen, and in tangled swamps, where there is barely clear water enough to float a walnut.
" In rivers and in small pieces of water, the Gadwall commonly occurs in small parties of from three to a dozen, but in large lakes I have seen them in flocks of several hundreds.
" On rivers they are generally to be seen snoozing on the bank during the day, and then they commonly leave these towards sunset for feeding-grounds inland. In broads they keep, if at all disturbed, well out of gunshot towards the centre, sometimes in clear water, more often skulking in low water-weeds; but in unfrequented places they may, even during the day-time, be found walking on the shore or paddling in the shallows round the edges of the tank, feeding busily with their tail-ends bolt upright, and the rest of them hidden by the water.
"They swim more lightly and they fly far more easily and rapidly than the Grey Duck or the Mallard. But like the former they spring up with one bound from land and water, at a rather sharp angle, and usually rise thus for twenty yards before sweeping off in a horizontal course. Their wings are long and pointed, and make in passing through the air a peculiar whistling sound similar to, though louder than, that made by the Common Teal, by which they may be recognised as they pass overhead in flight shooting."
With reference to Mr. Hume's remark that the Gadwall is essentially a freshwater species, Mr. J. D. Inverarity writes in " Stray Feathers " :—" I have frequently seen them in salt creeks on the other side of the Bombay Harbour, and I shot one out of a very large flock in a salt-water creek close to the tank where I got the Scaup on the same day."
Mr. Hume continues :—" The quack of the Gadwall is very much like that of the Mallard, but weaker and sharper, and more often uttered. They are more talkative birds than either the Grey or Common Wild Duck, and when feeding in undisturbed localities keep up a perpetual chatteration, not unlike that in which the Mallard occasionally indulges, but shriller, feebler, and far more incessant.
" On land it walks extremely well, far more gracefully than do the Mallard or Grey Duck, and may often be seen trotting about on tiny smooth grass patches at the margins of broads, busily devouring grasshoppers, crickets, and (strange though it may seem, it is the fact) small moths and butterflies.
"When wounded and pursued, they dive easily, but are much more easily tired out and captured than the Grey Duck, or a fortiori any of the Pochards."
Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker remarks regarding this Duck :—
" Surgeon-Captain Woods says that even in Manipur they leave about the end of March.
" An interesting fact noted by this close observer is that many, perhaps the majority, of these ducks pair off before leaving their winter quarters. He says most of them pair off in March, but that he has noticed some pairing as early as February. No one seems to have noticed these birds arriving at their breeding-grounds in pairs, so it is to be presumed that, their preliminary courtship completed, the pairs reassemble in flocks which remain together until they reach their nesting haunts.
"The Gadwall ranks very high up in the table of duck precedence. There are so many good points about it which attract favourable notice. As an article of diet few ducks are better. Some people would give the prize in this respect to the Mallard, others perhaps to the Pintail, but take the Gadwall all round it is hard to beat on the table. Personally I have never known the duck to have a fishy or other unpleasant flavour, nor have I met any Bengal sportsman who has charged it with this crime. But the northern presidencies have held men who have complained of this flavour when they first arrive. They ought to be all right, as they are almost entirely vegetable feeders, subsisting much on wild and cultivated rice, water-weeds, etc., and seldom varying the diet with animal food. A drake shot in Silchar was found to contain a mass of small white worms in addition to some water berries and half ripe rice, but this in no way affected the flesh.
" Before cooking, however, he has to be shot, and though not as a rule a very shy bird, yet he is quite wide awake enough to make the getting within shot of him an interesting, if not difficult job. Where, too, he has been much shot at, one's ingenuity and perseverance will be required before the game-bag can be made to assume the bulgy appearance it ought. Then, when you have got within shot, the Gadwall proves a thoroughly sporting bird: he is quick off the water, rising rather straight up into the air, and getting very soon well under way, and in full flight the Gadwall is even faster than the Mallard and, as many writers have observed, reminds one much of Teal in the manner of flying and the swish-swish of the wings as the flock hurtles overhead, leaving, let us hope, two birds in response to the right and left with which it has been greeted."
The Gadwall breeds throughout a considerable portion of Europe and in other temperate parts of the world. Regarding its nidification Mr. Seebohm says :—"The nest of the Gadwall is placed under some convenient bush, or beneath the shelter of a tuft of coarse grass or rushes, at no great distance from the water's edge. In rare instances it is made at some considerable distance from water. The nest is a mere depression in the ground, probably scratched out by the female, and lined with a little dry grass, bits of reed or rush, and, in some cases, with a few dead leaves. The eggs of the Gadwall are laid in May, frequently not before the end of the month."
Mr. Stevenson tells us :—" I have never seen the nest of a Gadwall far from the water; it is generally placed either in a Very boggy spot, or in a tussock of sedge, by which it is raised above the shallow water itself. In such situations it is constructed of dead grass or sedges, and very sparingly lined with down. The usual complement of eggs seems to be from ten to thirteen."
The eggs of the Gadwall appear to be cream-coloured when freshly laid, but, judg¬ing from a number of eggs of this species in the British Museum, they are often of a decidedly greenish tint: whether this is the original colour of some eggs, or imparted to the shell by incubation, it is difficult to say. They are slightly more pointed at one end than at the other, but many eggs are quite elliptical. They measure from 1.9 to 2.2 in length, and from 1.4 to 1.55 in breadth. The down is dark brown with pale centres.
The adult male has the crown and the hinder part of the head brown, the feathers with very narrow fulvous margins. The remaining parts of the head, with the forehead and the whole neck, are whitish or pale fulvous, closely streaked with dark brown. Each feather of the upper breast and of the sides of the breast is black, with several narrow, concentric, white bars. The feathers of the middle of the lower breast are white, with one or two broad, black bands. The upper part of the abdomen is white; the lower, white with narrow brown undulating cross-bars. The sides of the body are very distinctly barred with brown and pale fulvous. The axillaries and under wing-coverts are pure white. The under tail-coverts are deep black. The mantle, the back and the outer scapulars are vermiculated with white or pale fulvous on a dark brown ground. The inner scapulars are brown with fulvous margins. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are black. The tail-feathers are ashy brown, the exterior ones much mottled with white and fulvous. The primaries are drab on the inner web, the outer web and the tip of the inner being brown. The first four secondaries are brown tipped with white ; the next four are black on the outer web and tipped with white; the next four are white on the outer web, forming a large patch. The inner pointed secondaries are ashy. The first series of upper wing-coverts is ashy, marked with brown; the middle series is chestnut; and the third or lowest series has the inner two-thirds black, the outer third grey.
According to Dr. Bowdler Sharpe " the Gadwall drake, like the Mallard, assumes a sort of female plumage after the breeding season. The male then resembles the female, but is darker, as is the case with the other Ducks which assume the female coloration. The black rump, which is so characteristic of the adult Gadwall, disappears, as do the distinctive markings of the wing, and the male in the hen-like plumage can scarcely be told from the female. Mr. De Winton says that the summer dress is not so distinctive as in some of the other Ducks, as the male does not lose his speckled breast, or all the vermiculated feathers of the body, or the black under tail-coverts. The bill has much more yellow on it, and it is more like that of the hen, while the feet are dull orange with sooty webs."
The adult female has the crown and. back of the head streaked with black and fulvous. The remainder of the head and the whole neck is fulvous, streaked with black. The whole breast, the sides of the body, and the under tail-coverts are fulvous with large brown spots and streaks. The abdomen is white. The axillaries and the under wing-coverts are pure white. The mantle, back, upper tail-coverts and scapulars are black, the feathers with broad bright fulvous margins and concealed diagonal bars. The rump is black, irregularly barred with fulvous. The tail is brown, tipped paler and with diagonal fulvous bars. The first or upper series of wing-coverts is brown with whitish margins. The second or middle series is similar, but intermixed with a few chestnut feathers. The third or lower series is ashy on its outer half, black on its inner half. The primaries resemble those of the male. The first seven or eight secondaries are brown, progressively turning darker or blackish as they approach the body, and tipped with white; the next two or three secondaries are white on the outer web, forming a large patch. The inner, long secondaries are brown, narrowly margined with whitish.
Young birds in their first plumage very closely resemble the adult female, but they have the whole - lower plumage densely spotted or streaked. A smaller area of the lower series of the upper wing-coverts is black, but there is always enough black to make a patch and catch the eye. The white patch on the secondaries is always present.
Male: length about 20; wing 10 1/2; tail 3 1/2. Female: length 19; wing 9 1/2; tail 3 1/4. In the male the bill is black; in the female the bill is orange-brown, variegated with black. The irides are brown. The legs are yellow or orange, with the webs black. Weight up to a little more than 2 lb.