121. THE GOLDEN-EYE.
Clangula clangula, (LINNAEUS).*
Outer web of the primaries blackish; inner web drab, with a blackish tip.
Axillaries uniformly blackish or brown. The middle secondaries entirely white. Head and upper neck dark, sharply defined from the white of the lower neck.
MALE :—Head black, with a white patch on each cheek.
FEMALE:—Head chocolate-brown; no white patch on the cheeks.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Burgee, Punjab.
THE Golden-eye has been met with in India on so very few occasions that it may justly be looked upon as a very rare visitor. It has only been observed hitherto in Sind, the Punjab and the North-west Provinces, but I have good reason to think that it will be obtained in Upper Burma.
The first Indian-killed specimen of this species appears to have been got by Sir A. Burnes on the Indus river. Subsequently, Colonel Yerbury shot another specimen on the same river. This bird is preserved in the British Museum. Mr. R. N. Stoker observed this species, and shot several specimens, at Ghazi and Hasanpur, on the Indus above Attock, in December, and he has given full particulars regarding these birds in " Stray Feathers," vol. x., pp. 424 and 515.
The Golden-eye has occurred once only in the North-west Provinces, where Dr. Bonavia obtained a drake which had been captured by fowlers near Lucknow.
When travelling on the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy river between Sinbo and Myitkyina, I frequently observed small flocks of Ducks which I am strongly of opinion were Golden-eyes. I was, however, always in a noisy paddle-steamer, and these Ducks would never allow it to approach nearer than 300 or 400 yards, and under these circumstances it is impossible to be quite certain of the species. I hope that sportsmen at Myitkyina, who may have facilities for travelling about in canoes, will be more fortunate than myself, and settle the question of whether the Golden-eye occurs in the upper Irrawaddy or not.
The Golden-eye is one of those Ducks which has a very wide distribution, being found over the greater part of the northern hemisphere. In summer it occurs up to, and within, the Arctic Circle, and in winter it ranges down the American continent to Mexico; to Southern Europe and Northern Africa; and to many parts of Southern Asia.
There is nothing on record regarding the habits of the Golden-eye in the East, and I shall therefore give my readers a number of interesting notes extracted from the writings of European authors.
Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey remarks:— " The Golden-eye, like the Pochard, frequents inland lakes in some numbers, but is always a wary bird and difficult of approach. The wings of this species are so short and stiff in proportion to its weight and size, and are forced to beat so quickly to project its body, that a distinct whistle may be heard as it flies by. ... To get within shot of a number of Golden-eyes is an unusual feat in open water. The man, or men, and punt that can do this need not fear failure with other fowl. Scaup or Pochard that may have been under water at the moment of firing, after finishing their dive for food at leisure, will startle the fowler by rising close to him as he pushes up to gather his cripples. Golden-eyes seem to know when their companions are leaving the surface in fright, and will at once spring up and follow to join the rest. I never knew them incautiously rise within range after a shot, like the other species alluded to."
The author of the " Birds of Somersetshire," Mr. Cecil Smith, has some excellent remarks on the way the Golden-eye often escapes after being wounded. He says : —"The Golden-eye is a very expert swimmer and diver, so much so, that, like many others of this family, it is often a work of considerable difficulty to recover a winged bird if it falls into the water. . . . In inland waters where there are rushes and weeds these birds—and even the Wild Duck, which is not nearly so much of a diver—dive into some weedy part, where they lie perfectly concealed, allowing nothing but a very small portion of the bill, just enough to admit air, to appear above water : if there are no weeds I have known them conceal themselves in the same way under cover of any overhanging grass or unevenness of the bank; and so quietly do they rise for the purpose, putting their bills above water, that even in a still quiet pond hardly any circles are made on the water by this operation to attract attention. In the open sea, perhaps, it is more difficult for them to escape in this way, especially on a calm day; but still I am sure they do so occasionally, making use of any little bit of floating sea-weed to conceal themselves, or even without any such help, if they make a good long dive, they may still escape, so small an object as the bill of a bird being difficult to distinguish at any considerable distance, especially if the bird happens to get just in the glare of the sun upon the water: of course in rough weather the difficulty in seeing the bill of the bird is considerably increased. In no other way can I account for their sudden disappearance ; just when I have almost been in the act of putting out my hand to take a wounded bird into the boat there is a splash and a dive, and sometimes the bird is never seen again : it certainly does not die under water, or it would rise to the surface and be easily seen."
Mr. John Cordeaux observes in his "Birds of the Humber District":—"These Ducks swim rather high in the water. They are expert divers. A fine old male, which I watched for nearly an hour on the 26th January, 1869, swimming and diving in our creek, remained immersed, on the average, from forty-five to fifty seconds, continuing on the surface between each dive about twelve seconds, consequently spending four-fifths of its time under water."
Mr. Abel Chapman thus writes about Golden-eyes in his work on Bird-Life of the Borders :—" These, on first arrival, are quite tame and easily approached in a punt, before which they continue stupidly swimming away even when within fair shot. But a few weeks later, as soon as they have acquired experience of the dangers of the coast, Golden-eyes are among the wildest of all wild fowl; indeed, with the Mergansers they are perhaps the only birds which, on open water, it is wholly useless to try to approach in a gunning punt. Golden-eyes, when on the coast, spend the night at sea, flying up in twos and threes into the estuaries at the dawn; and their haunts are the deep-water channels of the harbour, especially those with sandy or shingly bottoms, where they continue diving ceaselessly all day long. Their food consists of shrimps, small shell-fish and marine insects, besides, to a lesser degree, the sea-grass and other vegetable matter. This latter they often carry up from the bottom and eat at their leisure on the surface. I would not have thought them sufficiently agile to catch any of the true fishes, but one day last winter (Dec. 5th), while watching a Golden-eye busily diving among the ice on a small (inland) pool, I was surprised to see it catch several fish. Every third or fourth dive, it brought up a small silvery fish—sticklebacks probably —which it spent some time tugging at and chewing on the surface before finally swallowing."
Seebohm has the following general remarks on the habits of this species :— " The Golden-eye chooses for its breeding-grounds a combination of forest, lake, river and marsh, and when the ice drives it southwards it prefers a similar locality ; but if such be not easily found it whiles away the winter months on the sea-coast. It is remarkable for its noisy flight, its rapidly moved wings whistling in the wind as it passes overhead. It makes also a great splashing in the water when it rises, but does not readily take wing, as it is a most expert swimmer and diver. It is one of the shyest of Ducks, and very difficult to shoot. It makes the same grating sound when calling to its fellows during flight as the Scaup and the Tufted Duck. It is a clumsy walker on the land, and lives almost entirely on the water, feeding on nearly every kind of both animal and vegetable food that its un¬rivalled powers of diving enable it to find at the bottom : small fish, young frogs, shell-fish, insects, the seeds and buds or tender leaves of water-plants, nothing comes amiss to it.
" But the most remarkable fact in the history of the Golden-eye is its habit of occasionally perching on the bare branch of some forest tree, and of discovering a hole in the trunk, sometimes quite a small one, but leading to a hollow inside, where it deposits its eggs on the rotten chips of wood without any nest, like a woodpecker. These breeding-places are sometimes a considerable distance from the ground. In the valley of the Petchora I have seen one at least five-and-twenty feet from the ground, but one I saw in the valley of the Yenesay was not more than half as high. It has been seen to convey its young one by one down to the water pressed between its bill and its breast. In many places the natives take advantage of this choice of a nesting-site and put up boxes with small entrance-holes in the side. It is glad enough to avail itself of these convenient situations, but generally pays the penalty of its trustfulness by having its eggs robbed by the hard-hearted peasants. To rob a nest for the sake of a museum that may give pleasure to hundreds of students for scores of years is one thing, but to do so for sport or food is another. Where a hollow tree-trunk cannot be found a hollow branch is often selected, and in some parts of Germany, where the forests are too well farmed to admit of the existence of hollow trees, the Golden-eye, according to Naumann, breeds on the top of pollard willows or even amongst the reeds on the ground."
Referring to the nesting-boxes which the peasants of Northern Europe hang up for these Ducks to nest in, Mr. Dresser remarks :—" These are frequently hung up close to the peasants' huts; and even then the Golden-eye will nest in them. The bottom of the hollow tree or nest-box is neatly lined by the old bird with down, and on this soft bed the eggs, which vary in number from ten or twelve to seventeen or even nineteen, are deposited. When hatched the young birds are carried by the female in her beak down to the ground or to the water, one after another being taken down until the entire brood is taken in safety from the elevated nesting-place."
The British Museum contains a considerable series of the eggs of this species. The eggs are oval or sometimes elliptical, with a smooth surface and a fair amount of gloss. In colour they are a greyish green of different shades, and they measure from 2.1 to 2.4 in length by 1.55 to 1.75 in breadth.
The down is pale lavender-grey with paler centres.
The adult male has the head and upper neck black, glossed with green and purple. There is a large white patch on each cheek. The lower neck, the upper part of the mantle, the sides of the breast, the breast itself and the lower plumage are white; the parts near the thighs being more or less brown, and the long feathers of the flanks margined with black on the inner web. The lower part of the mantle, the back, the rump and the upper tail-coverts are black. The inner scapulars are black ; the outer white, with the outer webs partially margined with black. The upper wing-coverts, round the edge of the wing, are black. The remaining coverts are white, the lower series with concealed black bases. The inner webs of the primaries are drab with black tips; the outer webs entirely blackish. The first few outer secondaries are black, with some white on their inner webs. The others are white. The long, pointed, inner secondaries are black. The tail is dark brown, tipped paler. The under wing-coverts and the axillaries are uniformly blackish.
In post-nuptial plumage, the drake resembles the duck, but retains the pure white upper wing-coverts of the winter plumage.
The adult female has the head and upper neck chocolate-brown, followed by an imperfect white collar. The upper part of the mantle, the chest and the sides of the breast are dark slaty grey, each feather with a whitish margin. The back and the upper part of the rump are blackish brown, the feathers with grey margins. The lower part of the rump and the upper tail-coverts are plain blackish brown. The tail is ashy brown. The breast and the lower plumage are white, the part about the thighs being brown. The feathers on the sides of the body are ashy brown, tipped with white. The axillaries and the under wing-coverts are uniformly brown. The scapulars are blackish brown, tipped paler, and mixed with some white externally. The upper wing-coverts are dark brown, more or less edged and mottled with white; the lower series have brown tips and concealed black bases. The primaries and the secondaries resemble those of the male bird.
Young ducklings of both sexes change from the down into a plumage which closely resembles the plumage of the adult female. During the winter and early spring young males may be found in every stage of intermediate plumage between that of the adult male and that of the adult female.
Male : length about 18; wing 9 ; tail 4. Female: length about 16; wing rather more than 8; tail 3 1/4. In the male the bill is black; in the female brown, with some yellow towards the tip; the irides are yellow; the legs and feet vary from yellow to orange-yellow, with the webs blackish. In some females and young males there is a yellow bar across the middle of the bill. Weight up to about 1 3/4 lb.
Closely allied to the Golden-eyes are the Scoters. They are marine Ducks, but they sometimes also occur inland. No Scoter has yet been known to visit India, but in the course of time a straggler may be picked up within our limits. I shall indicate the species which occur in Asia.
All the Scoters resemble the Golden-eyes in the pattern of the primaries, the inner webs being drab, with a dark tip; the outer webs, entirely dark brown. The axillaries are black or brown. The plumage of the males is black, that of the females brown, and it is varied in some species by the presence of a small amount of white on the head and wings.
THE COMMON SCOTER (Oedemia nigra). —This species has no white whatever on the plumage ; the male being glossy black throughout, and the female brown, paler beneath, and with the throat and the sides of the head grey. The male has a large black knob at the base of the upper mandible, and the space in front, yellow; the female has no knob, but the middle portion of the upper mandible is yellowish, much as in the male. N.-W. Asia.
Clangula glaucion of the British Museum Catalogue.¬
THE AMERICAN SCOTER (Oedemia americand).—Very like the Common Scoter. The male has the knob on the bill yellow, not black. The female appears to be un-distinguishable from the female of the Common Scoter. N.-E. Asia.
THE VELVET SCOTER (Oedemia fusca).
THE EASTERN SCOTER (Oedemia carbo). —These two species are very closely allied, so much so that it is difficult to separate them from mere description. The Velvet Scoter, should it ever occur in India, will probably be found in the north-west part of the Empire. The Eastern Scoter will be found in Burma and the Shan States only. Both species may be recognised at a glance, and separated from the Common and the American Scoter by the white patch on the secondaries. The males of both species also have the lower eyelid white; and the females have two whitish patches on the side of the head. The Velvet Scoter occurs in north-western Asia; the Eastern Scoter in north-eastern Asia, Japan and China.
In this place should also be noticed:—
THE LONG-TAILED DUCK (Harelda glacialis).—It occurs throughout a considerable portion of Northern and Central Asia, and has been obtained on the Caspian Sea and in China. It may therefore straggle into India. In the pattern of the primaries and in the colour of the axillaries it resembles the Golden-eye, but no portion of the quills of the wing is white. These characters will suffice to separate the Long-tailed Duck from the Golden-eye and all other Indian Ducks, at all ages. The adult male has a large portion of the plumage white; and the central tail-feathers are greatly lengthened. The female has the plumage of a dull brown colour and the middle tail-feathers are not lengthened.