101. THE INDIAN WOOD-DUCK.
Asarcornis leucoptera, (BLYTH).*
Primaries uniformly black. Axillaries white.
Speculum slaty-blue; wing-coverts white; separated from each other by a broad black band.
Head and neck white, spotted with black.
MALE : Breast black, lower plumage chestnut-brown.
FEMALE : Both breast and lower plumage chestnut-brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Deo-hans, Assam.
THE Indian Wood-Duck is probably found throughout the whole eastern portion of the Empire, from Assam to Tenasserim, but the localities where it has been actually obtained are few in number.
First, I may quote Colonel Godwin.
Austen. He says :—" I got this bird at Dimapur on the Dunsiri river; it appears to prefer sluggish streams like this flowing through forest, for I once flushed this bird in such a haunt in the interior of the Garo Hills. I am informed by Mr. James, of the Police at Samaguting, that it breeds on the Dunsiri, and that he had shot the young birds. It is called the ' Deo-hans' in Assam. Mr. J. Burt, of Tezpur, informs me that the white-winged Sheldrake perches on trees, and that one was killed thus sitting by Mr. J. Martin of Paniputa tea plantation, near Tezpur."
In the " Birds of India," Jerdon wrote :—" This fine Duck has hitherto been only procured in Burmah, but I have received information of a so-called ' Black Goose' occurring in Dacca and other parts of Eastern Bengal, which, from the description, can be no other bird." Subsequently, he wrote to Mr. Hume a note on this bird, of which I here reproduce a portion. He said :—" I have seen several flocks of Casarca leucoptera in the lower part of the Brahmaputra, where it joins the Ganges, not far above Dacca, where, indeed, Simson had seen it."
Mr. F. B. Simson, however, in an interesting paper on the birds found in Eastern Bengal, referring to this statement of Jerdon's, says (Ibis, 1882, p." 92):— " Jerdon informed Hume that I had observed Anas leucoptera to the east of Dacca; but I never saw it, nor have I ever seen a skin of it yet. I told Jerdon that I had heard of a large flock of dark Ducks in these waters, but had never met them myself. Jerdon himself only observed it from the deck of a steamer."
Mr. Hume's collectors obtained a specimen of this Duck at Dollah, at the extreme east of the Assam valley.
Colonel Graham, as quoted by Messrs. Hume and Marshall, informs us that this Duck is rare in Darrang, but common in the vast pathless tree jungles of Lakhimpur.
Mr. J. R. Cripps writes:—" This, hitherto rare, Wood-Duck is commoner in the Dibrugarh district than is supposed, but, from its retiring habits and the nature of the country it affects, is seldom seen. It is a permanent resident, frequenting lonely, weedy pathars in dense forest, and far away from villages. Food, principally vegetable matter with a few small pieces of pebble."
Mr. E. C. Stuart Baker tells us that Mr. W. Moylan shot this bird in Singbhoom, Eastern Bengal. He writes:— " Mr. Moylan, in narrating to me how he met with this Duck in Sini, in Singbhoom, said that they were shooting in grass-covered swamps at the edge of heavy forest. They were standing at the edge of this forest when he saw four birds, which he took to be geese, coming down towards him and his companions. They were at a great height, but a charge of S. K. G. shot took effect on the foremost, and he came crash to the ground, turning out to be a fine drake. It is possible that Mr. Moylan may have been wrong in his identification, but I failed to discover any reason to make me think so, though I questioned him closely on the matter. This was the only occasion on which he ever saw the Duck."
Mr. Stuart Baker himself found these Ducks in the Barpeta part of the Kamroop district. He observes:—"When I saw the pair in Barpeta, I was shooting Kya Partridge in the ekra-covered patches of swamp in the forests, and a pair got up some forty or fifty yards from me from some swamp just as I emerged from the forest. Two barrels of No. 7 pattered on their backs at once, but seemed not to have the smallest effect on them. These two birds flew just like geese, one bird (the male, I suppose, for he looked much the heavier) about ten yards in front of the other, their necks fully outstretched and squawking loudly as they flew for the first few hundred yards. Whilst in the open they flew within a few feet of the ground, but, on regaining the forest, mounted higher until they disappeared altogether in the distance."
Mr. Baker also met with these Ducks in Cachar. He remarks :—" The only experience I have had personally with them in this district was on a rainy day in June : when out shooting I heard two birds calling to one another in loud gooselike calls. The forest was very dense, and consisted almost entirely of trees, but through it there wandered a sluggish, dirty stream, which here and there disappeared into small morasses dotted with tiny pools of clear water. Thinking the safest way to get a shot would be to drive them, I sent my Cachari tracker to beat down the stream towards me from a point some two hundred yards or so above where we heard them calling. The drive proved a total failure, as though the birds flew within thirty or forty yards of me they kept inside the forest on the same side of the stream as that on which I was seated, and I hardly caught a glimpse of them, much less obtained a shot. The Cachari told me that when he came on the first one it was in a tree, from which it did not fly until he was underneath, and that then it made off to its mate, which was some two hundred yards higher up the stream. They then both settled in a small pool, and did not again take to wing until he had sneaked to within twenty yards, when they got up and flew straight away, passing, as I have already said, just out of sight of me. We heard them calling two or three days after this, but when I attempted to stalk them they made off long before I got within sight or shot of them."
I have never been able to meet with, or even hear of, this Duck in any part of Upper Burma or Pegu. It has been obtained, however, at Tavoy and Mergui, in Tenasserim, and lower down in the Malay Peninsula, at Poonga, Kussoom and Kopah.
The mounted specimen of this Duck in the British Museum, from Mergui, which from its large size is probably an adult male, has the head and neck white, much spotted and mottled with black. The lower neck, the sides of the breast, and the breast itself, are glossy black. The abdomen and the sides of the body are dull chestnut-brown, the under tail-coverts dusky rufous. The mantle, the upper scapulars, the back, rump and the upper tail-coverts are dark olive-brown, each feather margined with metallic black. The lower scapulars are plain olive-brown. The upper wing-coverts are white except the lower series, the feathers of which are slaty-blue at base, and black at the tip, the slaty-blue portions being concealed by the white coverts, and the black tips forming a broad band across the wing. The primaries are blackish. The outer secondaries are brown on the inner web, slaty-blue on the outer. The secondary next to these has a portion of the outer web white with a black margin. The inner and longer secondaries are olive-brown. The tail is dark brown. The axillaries are pure white, and the under wing-coverts almost entirely white.
The female apparently differs from the male in having the breast of the same chestnut-brown as the abdomen.
Male : length about 32; wing nearly 15 ; tail about 6 1/2. The female is smaller than the male. Mr. Cripps records one as measuring rather more than 29 in length, with a wing of about 13 1/2. The bill is orange-yellow, blotched with black in part; irides crimson; legs and feet orange-yellow. Weight up to about 6 1/2 lb.
* Asarcornis scutulata (part.) of the British Museum Catalogue.