The little bright-chocolate white-eyed pochard is far the commonest of Indian diving-ducks, and in winter may be looked for anywhere south to Eatnagiri and east to Manipur, but it is more a northern than a southern bird with us, like all the pochards.
The white eye is only a masculine character, but develops early, the female's eyes being dark grey and not conspicuous. Moreover she is not nearly so richly coloured as the drake, being especially clouded with blackish about the head. The coloration, however, is of the same general type, both giving the impression of a small dark duck, showing no white except on the stern when on the water, but displaying a conspicuous amount on the wings when in flight. Young birds are not rich dark brown, but dirty light brown, much like the colour of brown paper, certainly not the gingery orange shown in the background figure in Hume's plate. In all, the upper parts are darker and devoid of red tinge.
This is not only the commonest but the smallest of Indian pochards, seldom weighing much over a pound and a quarter. Except in Kashmir, it is only a cold-weather bird, coming in late in October. When in residence, they prefer before everything water well covered with weeds, or with plenty of rushes; just those places, in fact, which other diving-duck tend to steer clear of. But this species likes cover, and also packs much less than ducks generally, half a dozen being a far more likely party to come across than half a hundred, extremely numerous as the birds are in certain districts. They also often go in pairs or even singly, and in any case have a habit of getting up independently like quail, which of course endears them to the sportsman on account of the number of chances he gets. The flight also resembles a quail's in being low as a rule, and often terminating in a sudden stop ; it is fairly fast, though the bird starts awkwardly, rather like a coot, which in some ways it resembles in habits, just as the goosander does a cormorant; so distinct are the ways of ducks in reality, though people seem to look on them as monotonous uninteresting birds. "Winged birds are notorious for their skill in taking cover and disappearing altogether.
It must not be supposed, however, that the white-eye is. confined to weedy water; it is a most versatile bird, and will put up with any sort of aquatic habitat at a pinch, so long as it is. actually in water, for it does not seem to feed on land. Thus it may be found down on the sea-coast or up in the pools of the hill-streams, on lakes without cover or even on rivers, and, unlike all other diving-ducks, in little stagnant pools. On land, although not quick or elegant in its movements, this species seems less out. of its element than other pochards, as I have known it live well in an aviary in the Calcutta Zoo with only a very small tank ; but then I have also known even smews do this at home, so perhaps it is only an evidence of constitutional toughness. In feeding, this duck is particularly omnivorous, vegetable and animal food being much alike to it; it is thought but little of for the table, as a rule, but I could never see why it was so much abused ; but then I am fond of ducks generally, as well for eating as for observation. The note is a kurr in the female, a weak, faint quack in the drake, which jerks back his neck in,
a curve when courting her.
The white-eye breeds in Kashmir only in our limits, nesting late as a rule, for when it was the custom to take wild ducks' eggs for sale, this poaching traffic did not begin till June. About half a dozen eggs make a sitting, though more occur; they are drab or some shade of buff or pale brown. The nest is made of vegetable matter chiefly, there being but a small amount of down lining supplied by the bird in many cases. It is sometimes actually in the water, supported on the weeds, and in any case very near the edge.
Outside India the white-eye breeds through "Western Asia to the Mediterranean region; it is really a southern species, rarely going north of Central Europe ; in Britain, it is the rare "ferruginous duck" of the bird-books. India seems its chief winter resort, as in the case of the splendid red-crested pochard. The Bengali name is Lal-bigri or Bhuti-hans; Malac is used in Nepal Province and Burnu in Sind.