117. THE WESTERN WHITE-EYED POCHARD.
Nyroca nyroca, (GULDENSTADT).*.
Outer primaries with the outer web much darker than the inner ; inner primaries with both webs white, like the speculum; all tipped dusky.
Axillaries white, mottled with brown at tip.
Bill dark, with no trace of red; of about equal width throughout.
Under tail-coverts pure white.
Head and neck chestnut or reddish brown.
MALE :—Head and neck rich chestnut with a dark collar on the lower neck.
FEMALE:—Head and neck reddish brown with no trace of a collar on the lower neck.
VERNACULAR NAMES:—Karchiya, Boor armada, Hind.; Burnu, Sind. ; Malac, Nepal Terai; Lal-bigri, Bhooti-hans, Bengal.
THIS species and the next have not been discriminated by Indian naturalists and sportsmen till quite recently. We owe it to Mr. F. Finn that we now know that both species occur within the Indian Empire.
Messrs. Hume and Marshall did not suspect that the Eastern species occurred in India, and they do not refer to it even incidentally. It is therefore quite impossible to state even approximately what the distribution of the two species in India is. Inasmuch, however, as Mr. Finn informs us that both species of the White-eyed Pochard are equally numerous in the Calcutta bazaar for a short time after their first appearance, I shall as a matter of convenience assume that the longitude of Calcutta divides the range of the two birds and leave it to sportsmen hereafter to put us right regarding the exact distribution of these Pochards. They are very distinct species, and from the characters I have given, it will be seen that the females are quite as easy to separate as the males. There ought to be no difficulty about these birds in the future.
On the assumption, therefore, that the present species, the Western White-eyed Pochard, is restricted to the Indian peninsula, west of the longitude of Calcutta, we find that its range extends throughout the Himalayas from Kashmir to Sikhim and southwards to about the 14th degree of north latitude; the lowest point from which I can find this species recorded being Honawar, on the west coast, where Mr. J. Davidson procured a specimen in December (Bombay Nat. History Society's Journal, xii., p. 72).
In Kashmir, and probably in many parts of the Himalayas, this species is to a great extent a resident; but in the plains it is a winter visitor, arriving in the northern parts at the end of October and leaving again in March.
Out of India, this Pochard has a wide distribution, but is a bird of temperate climates, not being found far to the north. It extends from Central Europe (it has, however, been met with in Great Britain) to the valley of the Ob river in Siberia, its northern limit being approximately indicated by the 60th degree of latitude. In many parts of its range, this Pochard is a permanent resident. In the winter this species is met with over a large portion of Northern Africa and South-Western Asia, as well as in Europe and Central Asia.
The Western White-eyed Pochard is entirely a fresh-water bird, and I cannot find that it has ever been observed on the sea-coast. I shall let Mr. Hume speak of its habits, as European observers have written very little indeed regarding this Duck. He says :—
"Unquestionably weedy lakes and broads, containing moderately deep water, are its favourite haunts in this country; but I have occasionally met with it on river banks, small ponds, and even utterly bare shallow sheets of water, like the Sambhar Lake.
" It is seldom seen in the open water, and I have never seen any very huge flocks; but while I have often met with pairs and small parties of from three to seven on small tarns and ponds, I have put up successively many hundreds from different parts of large rushy, reedy lakes. Not en masse, but successively, for it is a characteristic of this Duck to cling to cover and rise singly, or in twos and threes, and only when compelled to do so.
" When on the wing the flight of this species is fairly, but by no means very, rapid. They rise with some little difficulty, and always by preference against the wind (indeed when there is no wind they are slow in getting under weigh). If flushed from water, they strike it repeatedly as they rise with their feet, much after the fashion of Coots, but in a less exaggerated style. Rising out of the reeds, they fluster up and go off much like Partridges, with a low, straight flight, often dropping suddenly, almost Quaillike, after a short flight.
" On land, one never sees them many paces distant from the water's edge, and running down to it, they shuffle along most clumsily.
" In the water they are at home ; they swim with great rapidity and dive marvellously. Indeed, what becomes of them is often a puzzle : the instant that, wounded, they touch the water, they disappear, and not unfrequently that is the last you see of them; at most they only rise once or twice, and then disappear for good. It is waste of time to pursue them; if they do rise, give them instantly a second barrel.
" I have often, when lying up hid in the reeds, waiting for more valuable fowl to come over, watched little parties of them feeding in some tiny, weedy, reed-hedged opening. Part of the time they swim about nibbling at the herbage or picking shells or insects off the lotus leaves; but they are continually disappearing below the surface, often reappearing with a whole bunch of feathery, slimy weed, which all present join in gobbling up. Sometimes they remain a very long time out of sight—I should guess nearly two minutes (it seems an age)—but generally they do not, when thus feeding, keep under more than say forty to fifty seconds.
" I fancy that they feed preferentially by day; first, because when in their favourite haunts I have invariably found them, when I have had opportunities of watching them unperceived, busy feeding at all hours, and never asleep, as night-feeding Ducks so constantly are, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; and, secondly, because I have so rarely killed them when flight shooting. When settled on some comfortable, rush-embosomed, weed-interwoven broad, I am pretty certain that they do not change their quarters at night-fall, as when encamped near any of their chosen day-haunts I have heard their harsh familiar call at intervals throughout the midnight hours; but of course in the less common case, when they affect bare-shored lakes or rivers by day—and some few do do this—they must needs go elsewhere to feed during the night, and in such situations I have once or twice seen them at midday snoozing at the water's edge.'
"Their quack or note is peculiar, though something like that of the Pochard, a harsh kirr, kere, kirr, with which one soon gets acquainted as they invariably utter it, ' staccato,' as they bustle up from the rushes, often within a few yards of the boat."
The Western White-eyed Pochard not only breeds in Kashmir, but it is believed to nest also in Sind, where a few birds of this species appear to remain during the year.
In Kashmir they breed most abundantly, principally in June, and their eggs become an object of commerce in the bazaars. They build a moderate-sized nest of rush and sedge amongst reeds and water-weeds, sometimes on the firm ground, and sometimes on some partially-floating mass of weeds.
In Poland, according to Dr. Taczanowski, the nest is placed amongst the herbage on the very edge of even deep water, generally on a tussock, and sometimes in a bush two or three feet above the ground, always, however, carefully concealed. If any one approaches the nest, the female slips off noiselessly into the water and avoids observation by diving.
The late Lord Lilford obtained a nest with nine eggs in Spain; the nest was at a short distance from the water, amongst high rushes, and was composed of dead dry water-plants, flags, etc., and lined with thick brownish white down and a few-white feathers.
The number of eggs laid is frequently as many as ten. They are almost perfectly elliptical in shape, smooth and with very little gloss. In colour they vary between creamy white and pale buff. They measure from 1.9 to 2.2 in length, and from 1.4 to 1.55 in breadth.
The adult male has the head, the greater part of the neck, the sides of the mantle and the whole breast deep chestnut. There is a well-defined, triangular white spot on the chin. A broad collar round the lower neck, a band down the middle of the mantle, and the upper back are blackish brown, the feathers with a rufous margin. The lower back and the scapulars are black, minutely, but indistinctly, speckled with rufous. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are deep black ; the tail brown. All the upper wing-coverts are dark brown. The primaries are broadly tipped with black ; the first three have the whole outer web blackish brown, the inner web almost entirely white ; the next two are white with a black margin to the outer web ; the next five are white throughout, with the exception of the tip. The outer secondaries are white, with broad, well-defined black tips; and the inner secondaries are black with a metallic gloss. The upper portion of the abdomen is white; the lower, dull reddish brown vermiculated with grey. The sides of the body are dull chestnut. The axillaries and the under tail-coverts are white, the former mottled with brown at the tip.
The adult female has the head and neck reddish brown. There is a white spot on the chin and the throat and fore-neck are mottled with white. The feathers of the mantle, breast, lower abdomen and sides of the body are dark brown with a rufous margin. The upper abdomen is dull white with the brown bases of the feathers showing through and causing a mottled appearance. The under tail-coverts and the greater part of the under wing-coverts are white. The back, scapulars and wing coverts are blackish brown, each feather with a narrow but paler margin. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are plain black ; the tail, brown. The axillaries and the quills of the wing resemble those of the male, but the white portions of the primaries are often tinged with grey.
Ducklings of both sexes change from down into a first plumage which closely resembles that of the adult female.
A specimen collected by Stoliczka in Kashmir on the 1st August, 1873, appears to me to be an adult male in the postnuptial plumage. It closely resembles the adult female, but the whole chin and throat are white mottled with chestnut, and the sides of the head are streaked with chestnut. The feathers of the abdomen are brown fringed with dull white. There are a few new feathers on the breast, rich chestnut tipped with white.
Male : length about 16 1/2 ; wing about 7 ; tail about 2 1/2. Female: length about 16; wing nearly 7; tail about 2 1/4. The bill is bluish black; the irides, white or greyish white; the legs and feet, lead-colour, with the webs dusky or blackish. In young birds the irides are said to be brownish. Weight up to rather more than 1 1/2 lb.
Nyroca africana of the British Museum Catalogue.