The tufted pochard drake is conspicuous among all our water-fowl, not so much by his long thin drooping crest, which is only noticeable close at hand, but by his striking magpie coloration, black in front and behind and white in the middle; the back, indeed, is black as well as the breast, but the broad white flanks are what catch the eye as the bird swims. The female is dark brown with a much shorter crest, and seldom shows any white above the water-line.
On the wing both sexes show as small dark ducks with nearly white wings, and at a distance may be easily confused with the white-eye, but differ somewhat in habits and choice of location. Young birds of the year are dull light brown, very like young white-eyes, but may be distinguished, if the crest and the characteristic yellow eye of this species has not developed, by the much shorter and broader beak, especially wide at the tip.
Although a small duck, the tufted is bigger than the white-eyed pochard, being broader built and averaging about half a pound heavier. In spite of this, however, it is the most active flyer of all the common pochards, getting sharply off the water and flying fast and without undue effort. Its ways may be studied to perfection within a hundred yards or so of the India Office, for in St. James's Park it lives and breeds in complete liberty, and specimens visit all the London waters.
In India it is a winter visitor only, and extends east to Manipur and Burma, but not further south in India than North Coimbatore. It was very commonly brought into the Calcutta Bazaar in my time, but could not compare in numbers with the white-eyed pochard, which was by far the commonest diving-duck to be met with there, and commoner than any of the migrant ducks except garganey and common teal. I may here observe that the light brown colour here attributed to young tufted pochards may indicate a special Eastern race, or more probably be due to fading under bright sunlight, for those hatched in England fledge off as dark as the old female. I have, however, seen two young English drakes which had assumed as their first plumage the undress plumage of the old drake, which in this stage has the white flanks obscured by a plentiful pencilling of fine black lines, so that they look a smoky grey.
In India the tufted pochard is seen in both small and very large flocks; it likes broad open water, and is very difficult to shift from its chosen location on the first day of shooting, though after a day's worrying it will not come back to be shot at again like many other ducks ! It is a fast swimmer, and as a diver at least equals the common red-headed pochard; its evolutions under water may be watched with profit in St. James's Park, where it may be seen to go over a lot of ground before rising to the top. Sometimes a flock will on Indian waters prefer to dive rather than fly, in which case, if one's boat can be pushed on to where they went down, they will afford a good many snap-shots— at the risk of casualties from shot glancing off the water ! "When in pairs, the duck rises first, calling herr as she goes.
Although it greedily devours bread in semi-domestication, it feeds mostly on animal food— water-snails, small fish, and so forth—in the wild state, and appears never to feed on shore ; even when petted in a park it seldom leaves the water for bread, and its gait on land is particularly hobbling and awkward, much worse than that of the common pochard. It is a day-feeder, and in spite of its animal-feeding habits is often good eating, though too frequently what Hume calls "froggy." It comes into India early in October and may remain as late as May. It is a widely ranging bird, extending to Norway in the breeding season, and to North Africa in one direction and the Malay Peninsula in the other, in winter. In Hindustani, besides the name given above, which expresses the male's pied colouring, it is called Dubaru and Rohwara, while in Nepal it shares the name of Malac with the white-eye; in Sind it is called Turando ; Nalla chilluwa in Telugu.