98. THE SMALL WHISTLING DUCK.
Dendrocycna javanica, (HORSFIELD).
Primaries uniformly black.
Axillaries and under wing-coverts black.
Upper wing-coverts largely maroon.
Upper tail-coverts chestnut.
No black band down the hindneck.
VERNACULAR NAMES -.—Silli, Silhali, Chihee, Hind.; Saral, Shareil,Harrali-Hans, Beng. ; Hansrali, Uriya ; Ade, Adla, Mahrathi ; Yerra Chilluwa, Telugu; Yerrundi, Malayalum; Chemba Tara, Tamil in Ceylon; Saaru, Tatta Saaru, Ceylon ; Horali, Assam ; Tingi, Manipur ; Sissalee, Burma.
WITH the exception of the Himalayas, Kashmir and the Punjab, the Small Whistling Duck is to be found in all suitable localities throughout the Indian Empire, from the base of the Himalayas to Ceylon on the one hand, and from Assam to Tenasserim on the other. It occurs also in the Andamans and Nicobars. Eastwards, Lieut. J. H. Whitehead informs me that he has observed this species at Kengtung, so we may presume that it is found all over the Shan States.
This species is commoner in Bengal and the eastern part of the Empire than in any part of the peninsula of India.
This Duck has a considerable range, being found in China, Siam, Cochin China, the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo and Java.
The Small Whistling Duck is a permanent resident in all parts of the Empire where it is found, but like all other Ducks it moves about to find suitable conditions. In many of the drier parts of India it is only found in the rainy season ; in others it is rare, chiefly owing to the want of tree-jungle. In Burma, and apparently also in Bengal, these Ducks remain about the larger swamps in much the same numbers throughout the year, but of course in the breeding season they become scattered and attract less notice. By preference this bird frequents weedy ponds and marshes, but it is occasionally met with on rivers. It is not uncommon on small village tanks and ponds, and it may be seen on roadside drains and paddy-fields. It goes about in pairs during the breeding season, but at other times in flocks of all sizes, from half a dozen to many hundreds. It is tame and familiar unless very much harassed, and is very easily shot. When disturbed they often wheel several times round the intruder and quickly settle down again.
This Duck is very often observed perching on some large bough of a tree, especially during the nesting season, when the male sits for hours near his mate, who has her eggs in the vicinity. They are at all times fond of resting on trees, and many roost on them at night.
They are excellent swimmers and divers. They feed, however, on the surface chiefly, and they are quite as omnivorous as the domestic Duck. Their cry is a double whistle, and it is uttered both when rising and during flight, especially when wheel¬ing round and round.
The nest of the Small Whistling Duck is placed in a variety of situations. In Lower Burma, although there were many suitable trees about, I found the nests invariably built on the thick, matted cane-brakes and bushes which are often allowed to grow between paddy-fields which have only recently come under cultivation.
Mr. Stuart Baker has, however, had a more varied experience than myself in connection with the nesting of this bird, and I shall therefore quote his remarks from the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. He says :—
"Normally and typically both our Indian Dendrocycnae build nests on trees or lay their eggs in their hollows ; often, however, they make use of the deserted nests of other birds, and sometimes they build nests on or near the ground in reeds, grass, or even bushes. The recorded and authenticated instances of the common ' Whistling Teal' laying its eggs in nests placed on the ground are not numerous. . . .
" Personally I have never seen a nest actually on the ground, but have taken one or two from situations very close to it. In Cachar, at the foot of the hills, there is much broken ground, often intersected by nullahs, which widen out here and there into swamps and bheels. Here the ' Whistling Teal' is in its element and has an enormous variety of sites to choose from. The one I have found most often selected is some clump of trees, generally babool or a stunted species of large-leaved, densely-foliaged tree which grows often actually in the water. When the rains are on, these small clumps form oases in the centre of a watery desert, and, when the floods are at their height, show merely a few feet of their crests above water, on one of which the ducks build their nest; a rough and ready construction of weeds, sun-grass and rushes, rarely lined with a few feathers. Sometimes a good many twigs are used, more especially when the nests are placed in babool trees, where, owing to the support being less compact, the nest itself is bound to be stronger and better put together. The situation next most often chosen as a site for the nest is up one of the arms of these bheels, which seldom, if ever, have deep water in them, but at the same time, from collecting moisture drained off the surrounding hills, are always wet and moist. In these places the canes, reeds and other vegetation grow to a great height, often twelve feet or more, and are so rank and tangled that their tops will bear no inconsiderable weight. When building the nest in one of these tangles the birds place it some two or three feet from the top, the density of which protects it greatly from rain, etc. The nest itself is of the roughest description, a mere thick, coarse pad of grass, reeds and perhaps a few creepers, measuring some 18" to 24" in diameter, and with no more depression in the centre than is caused by the birds constantly sitting in them.
"Now and then the nest is found on trees close by villages and near some tank or piece of water. When on this kind of tree the nest may be placed either on one of the bigger forks or in a large hollow; and when in the former place are quite well-built nests of twigs lined with grass and a few feathers. If, on the contrary, they are in the hollows, the nest is scanty and sometimes merely consists of the fragments naturally contained in the hole.
" In Rungpur, I found nearly all my nests on trees, though very often they were not built by the birds themselves, but they used old crows' nests sometimes, old kites' nests frequently."
The eggs of this Duck at times number as many as fourteen, but eight or ten is perhaps the most usual number. In shape they are either elliptical or broad oval, short and somewhat rounded. They are not quite so smooth as the eggs of many other species of Ducks, and they are but very slightly glossy. The colour is white or very pale cream. They measure from 1.7 to 2 in length and from 1.4 to 1 .6 in breadth.
This bird seems to breed everywhere during June, July and August, but eggs have been taken sometimes during September and October.
The adult male and female have the forehead and crown fulvous brown, darker behind. The sides and back of the head are fulvous grey; the chin and throat paler. The neck is grey. The breast is pale orange-brown passing gradually into the chestnut of the abdomen and the sides of the body. The under tail-coverts are whitish. The mantle is light brown, the feathers edged with pale fulvous. The back and scapulars are dark brown, the feathers margined with bright rufous. The rump is black ; the upper tail-coverts chestnut; the tail brown. The lesser and middle series of wing-coverts are maroon ; the lower series or greater coverts, together with the long inner secondaries, are dark ashy. The other quills of the wing are all black. The axillaries and the under wing-coverts are black.
The young bird in first plumage is similar to the adult bird, but paler.
The sexes are of much the same size.
Length 16; wing 7 1/2; tail 2 1/4. The bill, legs and feet are brownish blue, the nail of the bill nearly black; the irides are brown; the eyelids bright yellow. Weight up to 1 1/4 lb.