Being the original and typical pochard, this bird, as Hume says, really does not need a qualifying epithet; "red-headed," that commonly applied to it, is no more distinctive than the Hindustani Lal-sir, since both this and the red-crested species have red heads. Pochard, by the way, means in French a drunkard, and I rather fancy it was applied to this species on account of the red eyes, which are a most noticeable feature in the drake. We all know the text, " Who hath red eyes and carbuncles? Those that follow after strong drink."
It is true that authors persist in saying the eyes are yellow, but this is really rarely the case in the living male, though the eye may turn yellow after death, or even temporarily during extreme fright, as when the bird is handled. In females, as fat-as I have seen, the eyes are almost always brown, but I once saw a red-eyed specimen. This pochard is a squat, thick-set, big-headed duck, with a very short tail, which is not noticeable on the water, as the bird swims very low, especially astern. The male's pale grey body, contrasting with the black breast and chestnut head (which at a distance also looks dark), is very characteristic both on the water and on the wing, especially as the latter has no conspicuous mark, being grey like the body. The female is also grey, but dull and muddy, with the head and breast a decided brown. The absence of any white on the wing will distinguish her from all the other diving ducks except the rare stiff-tail, which is sufficiently well characterized by its peculiar beak and tail, to say nothing of other parts. Males in undress have the breast grey instead of black. This is a heavy duck for its size, weighing about a couple of pounds or little under, and showing but little sex difference in weight.
The pochard is as well known a bird in India as in Europe, but only as a winter visitor, ranging throughout the north to Manipur and even Burma, but not going further south than Bellary. It is very common in the northern part of its ranges but comes in rather late, not till the end of October even in the north as a rule.
It goes in flocks numbering at times thousands, but of course commonly in dozens, according to the nature of the accommodation, the big flocks being found on the big sheets of water. It is fond of open water, and may even be found on the sea coast. A few feet of depth at least is in its favour, for it is one of the finest of divers among our Indian ducks, and gets nearly all of its food in this way, though now and then small flocks may be found surface-bibbling in the shallows, and in rare cases feeding on land. Their gait in this Hume says, is certainly very awkward, but in practice they walk rather better if put to it than most diving ducks, in spite of the size of their feet and eminent adaptation for swimming and diving. They rise with considerable trouble and exertion, as one would expect from their small wings, and blunder into standing nets in numbers. Their wing-rustle is said to be characteristic, as would be expected from the quick action necessary in flight to such a full-bodied small-winged duck as this is.
The vocal note is the sound like kurr, kurr, which takes the place of a quack in several diving ducks; the male has a separate note during courtship of a wheezing character.
This pochard being a near relative of the far-famed American canvas-back, it is not surprising to find it a good table bird; in fact, it is the best of the Indian diving ducks, and the only one to be relied on for quality among these, except on the sea-coast. Its food is vegetable by preference, consisting of water plants, rice, &c, with an addition of water snails, which are eaten by practically all ducks, and other animal hors d'aeuvre.
This pochard is of a naturally tame disposition, but gets wary enough when persecuted at all; and winged birds will give plenty of trouble to bring to book, though Hume considered them less elusive than the white-eye. However, as he says, they are generally shot in more open water. As far as actual diving goes I should say the common pochard is really the better performer of the two.
Although a very similar species inhabits North America besides the canvas-back, this really has a yellow eye and seems to me to be just separable after having seen live specimens ; so the pochard may be reckoned as purely an Old- World bird. The female is distinguished as Dunbird by English sportsmen, but the same native names seem to apply to both sexes. Gheun is used in Nepal and Thordingnam in Manipur.