Baer's White-eyed Pochard.
Boro Lalbigra, Cachari.
That Baer's white-eye is a very uncertain visitor to our Empire, is proved by the fact that Hume and his numerous collectors and correspondents never got to know about it. Yet the adult is a most unmistakable bird, the green-glossed black head contrasting so strikingly with the chocolate breast which it shares with the common white-eyed pochard. In fact, except for the head, the two are much alike, but an important difference is that the white on the belly of the Baer's white-eye runs irregularly up on to the flanks, thus showing above the water-line, and furnishing a means of distinction, even at a distance, from the common white-eye.
The sexes are more alike in this species than in the ordinary white-eye, but the female is distinguishable by the presence of a rusty area between the eye and the beak, con¬trasting with the green of the rest of the head. This, like the plumage generally, is less rich than in the drake, but the difference is very slight, and it is quite a mistake to describe the female's head as simply black. "When a bird shows no green gloss it is generally small, and probably indicates a cross with the commoner species, which is very noticeably the smaller of the two.
So much is this the case, that it is one of the distinctions of the young birds, which in this species are dull light-brown as in the last, but have a rusty tinge about the face and a distinct black shade on the crown which is not found in young common white-eyes. The difference is especially marked in the bill, which is about half an inch longer in the eastern than in the western white-eye; in fact, the whole bird is longer and less dumpy, though the family resemblance is most obvious and close.
Even in its ordinary wintering-places in China, the eastern white-eye seems somewhat irregular in its occurrence, and little, is really known about it except that it breeds in East Siberia. There has certainly been a considerable winter westward movement of the species of late years, beginning apparently with the year 1896, when it turned up in the Calcutta Market, by no means an unexploited locality. The rush appeared to culminate in the next winter, the birds then becoming gradually scarcer; in 1902, up to December when I left India for good, there had been none in; but about February was about the likeliest date for them ; in 1896-7 they were as common as ordinary white-eyes. Mr. Baker also got them, after the occurrence of the species here was made known, from Cachar, Sylhet, near Bhamo, and the Shan States, which is what one would expect, although the birds do not seem to have been numerous, as they apparently were in Bengal; he only got three from Burma, for instance.
Although not recorded on the Continent, the birds even pushed as far as England, where two have been shot of late years, one at Tring, and one while this book was being written, in Notts. The only observation worth recording here I was able to make on these birds, of which I kept several alive in the museum tank, and got others for the Calcutta and London Zoos, was that when kept full-winged in an aviary they rose as easily as surface-feeding ducks ; this may mean they escape netting much more than other pochards. I may also mention that the note and courting gestures of the species are, as one would expect, like those of its common ally, and it is certainly no better to eat, according to those who have tried it. As confirming the view of those who attribute the abnormal lingering of pairs of migratory birds in India to some injury incapacitating one partner from migration to the northern breeding-grounds, I may, in conclusion, cite the case of an unpinioned male of this species I had, which remained in the museum tank for at least two summers along with a pinioned pair ; indeed, I never even saw him fly, and ultimately I caught him when he was in moult and gave him away to go to Europe along with the pinioned birds. Of course he and not the pinioned drake might have been mated to the female, but even if he were not, he evidently did not like to leave his companions, and his constancy rather tends to show that flocks of the species never passed over during his stay with me, or he might have been tempted to do so.