116. THE POCHARD.
Nyroca ferina, (LINNAEUS).
Outer primaries with the outer web much darker than the inner; inner primaries with both webs of the same ashy grey as the speculum ; all tipped dusky.
Bill dark, with no trace of red; of about equal width throughout.
Abdomen and breast of different colour."
Back and scapulars distinctly vermiculated.
Under tail-coverts never pure white.
MALE :—Head and. neck rich chestnut; mantle black. FEMALE :—Head, neck, and mantle, dull reddish brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Boorar nur, Lal-sir, Hind. ; Rutubah, Sind. ; Cheoon, Nepal; Lall muriya, Beng.; Thording-nam, Manipur.
THE Pochard occurs as a winter visitor in all parts of the Indian peninsula, from the Punjab and Sind to Bengal, and from the Himalayas down to about the latitude of Bellary (15°), being common in the north and rare in the south. It occurs throughout Assam, and has been observed in Chittagong and Manipur. It extends south to Mandalay, where my friend, Captain T. S. Johnson, with his party, once obtained three Pochards in a miscel¬laneous bag of 562 Ducks and Geese.
The Pochard has a wide range, but is comparatively seldom found far north. It occurs over almost the whole of Europe, in a considerable portion of Northern Africa and throughout Southern and Central Asia, from the Red Sea to China, and from about the 14th or 15th degree of north latitude up to about the 60th degree. In this large area, it is more or less migratory, according to season.
The Pochard arrives in the north of India about the beginning of November, although a few birds may be met with in October. It appears to be quite common in many parts throughout March, and it probably leaves at the commencement of April. I can find no precise information on this point, and perhaps the time of departure does not differ much from that of other migratory Ducks in India. As usual, Mr. Hume's account of the habits of this species is excellent. He says:—" What the Pochard really likes is a large broad or mere, surrounded by rushes, reeds, and aquatic plants, some feet in depth, and with a considerable breadth of open water in the centre. Elsewhere you may meet a few, as on the banks of rivers, or in any kind of lake, even the Sambhar; but in such localities as I have indicated you will see flocks of several thousands, and many acres of water completely paved over with them. Habitually this species goes about in large flocks, but in places unsuited to its tastes you will meet with single birds or small parties.
" The Pochards are eminently swimming and diving ducks ; ' their path is o'er the glittering wave, their home is on the deep.' They walk badly; indeed it is very seldom one sees them on land; but I have once or twice surprised them feeding in wild rice in the early mornings, and have been struck by the awkwardness of their gait. Their flight is slow and heavy until they get well on the wing, after which it is fairly rapid; but they rise with some little difficulty in perfectly calm weather, and always, if there be a wind, against it if possible.
" They swim very rapidly and gracefully ; as a rule, rather deep in the water, but at times, especially when a lot are at play together, for a minute or two quite high, as if barely resting on the water. They are very playful, and skirmish about together, chasing each other, scuttling along on the surface one moment, out of sight the next. They are grand divers; like all the Pochards they have the hind-toe more webbed (though this is slightly less marked in this species and the White-eye than in the Scaup, etc.) than the True Ducks and Teal have, and it is doubtless partly this which makes them such good divers.
" Of course, with their diving powers, wounded birds give a grand chase ; but they are not quite such adepts at disappearing altogether as the White-eye; and, as they are more generally shot in open water, it is less common to lose them.
" Their note, rarely heard until they are disturbed, is very like that of the White-eye, but louder and harsher—a kurr, kurr; but their wing rustle is far more characteristic, and I have rarely failed to recognise them by it, when I have shot them at night, before they came to hand."
Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey thus cautions the sportsman who is after Pochards :—
" After a shot, never pass Pochards that may appear nearly dead, in pursuit of those more lively. Whilst you are chasing the latter, the others will often revive and disappear. Failing to overtake the strong cripples, you perhaps turn back, with the consoling thought that the others are easily to be found. Never was hope more delusive: they are the hardiest of fowl, and scarcely feel a blow that would kill a Mallard."
Although there are eggs of this Duck in the British Museum which were taken in Russia, I cannot find any account of the breeding of this species either in Russia or in any other part of Europe except Great Britain. In England this bird breeds in some localities where it is carefully protected. I shall, therefore, give a few notes regarding the breeding of the Pochard in England.
Mr. James H. Tuke, as quoted by Mr. Hewitson, says :—" Whilst at Scarborough about the middle of June last year, Mr. Bean informed me that several pairs of Red-headed Ducks, as the gamekeeper called them, had been seen upon a piece of water a few miles from Scarborough, and that he was going the next day to see if he could find their nests. I had the pleasure of accompanying him, and sure enough several pairs of Pochards flew up from their reedy habitation as we passed our boat up amongst the tufts of grass and long reeds which at one end of the lake form a bog of many acres in extent, almost inaccessible, for between these tufts of treacherous grass the water is some feet deep ; it was with the greatest difficulty we managed to jump from one of these tufts to another. Whilst beating about amongst this herbage, a female Pochard flew up almost close to us, and in a short time the gamekeeper, who was with us, found a nest lined with feathers, and rather under the shade of a bush of Myrica gale, which grows plentifully in this bog. I had the pleasure of seeing the nest, but unfortunately there were no eggs."
Professor A. Newton, writing of the Pochards on the estate of Lord Walsingham, in Norfolk, remarks :—" Of the nests seen by me, one was built on sedge growing in the water; but the others were on the land, though so close to the margin that the bird could slip into the water in less time than it takes to say so."
The eggs of the Pochard sometimes number as many as thirteen. Though generally truly elliptical in shape, some eggs are rather pointed at one end. The shell is smooth and has a fair amount of gloss. In colour they are uniformly of a greenish grey or greenish stone-colour. They measure from 2.2 to 2.45 in length and from 1.65 to 1.75 in breadth. The down is greyish brown with large whitish centres.
The adult male, with the exception of a small white spot on the chin, has the whole head and neck rich chestnut. The mantle is black. The breast is dark slaty brown, the feathers with a rufous margin and some indistinct black vermiculations. The abdomen and the sides of the body are pale grey, the former very finely vermiculated with black; the latter, more coarsely. The under tail-coverts are black. The back, the scapulars,, the innermost secondaries and the upper wing-coverts are grey, very finely vermiculated with blackish lines. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are black ; the tail grey, freckled with dusky. The outer primaries are ashy grey on the inner web, which is tipped with dark brown; dark brown on the outer web, becoming paler near the shaft. The inner primaries are ashy grey on both webs and tipped with dark brown. The secondaries are ashy grey, the outer web freckled with dusky, and both webs tipped with white. Sometimes the dusky freckles are replaced by an indistinct dark band in front of the white terminal margin. The secondaries on the inner side of the speculum are narrowly margined with dusky on the outer web. The axillaries are white and the under wing-coverts nearly entirely so.
The adult female has the head, the neck and the mantle dull reddish brown, dark on the crown, light and frequently almost whitish on the throat and the sides of the head. The breast is very dull reddish brown, each feather margined with grey or yellowish brown. The remaining lower plumage is brownish grey, becoming darker towards the tail and vermiculated with brown on the lower part of the abdomen and the sides of the body. The back and the scapulars are brown vermiculated with grey. The wing resembles that of the adult male, but there is hardly a trace of vermiculations on the coverts. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are dark brown speckled with grey ; the tail dark brown. The axillaries are white and the under wing-coverts nearly entirely so.
The adult male in the post-nuptial plumage resembles the female so closely that it can hardly be separated by any definite characters.
Ducklings of both sexes change from down into a first plumage which resembles that of the adult female. Many of the feathers, however, of the upper plumage have paler margins, and the sides of the body are not vermiculated. The young drake assumes the plumage of the old male by a gradual series of changes.
Male: length about 18; wing 8 1/4; tail about 2 1/2 Female: length about 17 1/2; wing 8; tail 2 1/4. The bill is black at the base and the tip, bluish in the middle; irides orange-yellow; legs and feet leaden grey. Weight up to rather more than 2 1/4 lb.