Dendrocycna major

Large Whistler.

Dendrocycna major.

Burr a Silli, Hindustani.

The large whistler presents the peculiarities of its small common cousin in an exaggerated form ; it is longer-necked and more leggy, and has bigger feet and head; its wings are blacker, and its body-colour a much richer brown—chestnut instead of dun, in fact; its feet are often much lighter, French-grey instead of dark slate ; and it is far bigger, weighing up to two pounds, though it takes a good male to reach this. Nearly all these distinctions, however, though the most striking, are comparative ; more positive ones are the presence of a transverse curved patch of cream colour above the large whistler's tail, most noticeable when it takes wing; this is replaced by dark inconspicuous maroon in the small whistler, which, on the other hand, has a conspicuous yellow ring round the eye, owing to the edge of the eyelids being thus coloured; in the large bird they are grey, like the bill and feet. On the water the much more strongly developed streaking of cream colour on the flanks, as well as the redder head and breast and darker back, make the big whistler noticeable.

It swims as well and dives as freely as the small kind, but also comes ashore a great deal more, and does not divide its time so rigidly between the water and the trees. On the wing it is far swifter, and being more wary, is a really sporting bird ; some people also think it better on the table. It is resident in our Empire, but cannot be called a common, widely distributed or abundant bird ; it only goes in small flocks, never in the dense masses such as are seen in the case of the small whistler, and is only really numerous in Bengal, though it ranges east into Burmah, west to the Deccan, and south to Madras. Outside our Empire it is not found in Asia.

It feeds on much the same food as the small whistler, with an especial fondness for rice, wild or cultivated, and selects the same situations for nesting as a rule, i.e., old nests, holes in trees, or suitable boughs on which the birds make a nest of their own ; they have not, however, as yet been found nesting on the ground, but this is probably because they are so scarce and local in comparison that there are not the same opportunities for observation, or for variation in the birds' habits for that matter, that there are in the case of the small common species.

Although they are afraid of this bird, and less aggressive with other ducks, they will fight readily enough with each other in captivity, springing right out of the water and striking with their feet. They also pair freely, unlike most of this group, which display little sex-proclivities in captivity, except for tickling each other's heads like doves or love-birds. The eggs are white, and rather larger than those of' the common whistler, though extremes meet.

Outside Asia the large whistler, sometimes called the fulvous duck, is found in tropical Africa and the warm regions of America. This is a most extraordinary range for a bird that does not undertake long migrations, and calls for considerable elucidation; there can be no doubt that the bird is greatly disadvantaged in India by the competition of its abundant and aggressive relative, but then, on the other hand, it is far more hardy, bearing the English winter outdoors when the small kind looks thoroughly miserable and soon dies off, and even breeding. So one would think that it might have colonized cooler climates and struck out a line of its own; but possibly it once had a more northerly range, and has become reduced to its present location by some cause which we do not at present understand—at any rate, its persistence in indistinguishable form all round the tropics is a unique phenomenon in bird-life.

BookTitle: 
Indian Sporting Birds
Reference: 
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Dendrocycna major
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Year: 
1915
Page No: 
58
Common name: 
Large Whistler
M_ID: 
247
M_CN: 
Fulvous Whistling Duck
M_SN: 
Dendrocygna bicolor
id: 
12290

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