113. THE MARBLED DUCK.
Marmaronetta angustirostris, (MENETRIES).
Primaries nearly uniformly grey on both webs, with a silvery grey tinge on the outer web of the outer feathers.
Axillaries white, barred with brown near the tip. Under tail-coverts barred across. Upper plumage with large, roundish, pale buff spots.
MALE : With a blackish patch round the eye.
FEMALE: With a pale brown patch round the eye.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—None known.
THE Marbled Duck has been observed so frequently in Northern India that it may be considered a regular and common winter visitor.
Mr. Hume was the first to introduce this species to the Indian list. He found it abundant in suitable localities through¬ out Sind. Mr. Ross Knyvett procured it at Futtehgurh, in the North-West Provinces, in January, and the late Mr. A. Anderson got it in Oudh in March.
Mr. G. Reid also observed it near Lucknow. ' Colonel Butler records it from Mount Abu and Northern Guzerat. Mr. Hume noticed two specimens in the Calcutta market, one in December and one in February. Lastly General J. H. McLeod informs us that he shot this species in the Bhauwulpur territory, and near Gurdaspur, in the Punjab.
It may therefore be safely asserted that this small Duck occurs over the whole of Northern India, from Sind to Bengal, and from the foot of the Himalayas down to at least the 22nd degree of north latitude.
This Duck occurs as a resident or a partial migrant in Portugal and Spain; the whole northern part of Africa, from the Canaries to Egypt; Southern Russia; Palestine; the Caspian Sea; Persia, and thence on to India. It is difficult to understand the movements of this Duck, and it is most probably more of a resident in most countries than is generally supposed; and it is not at all unlikely that ome birds of this species may remain in the north-western parts of India during the summer.
The Marbled Duck does not appear to be anywhere so common in the winter as it is in Sind, and to Mr. Hume we are indebted for nearly all we know regarding its ordinary winter habits.
He thus records his experiences of this Duck:—-"In Sindh, where I had abundant opportunities of observing it, I found it invariably associated in large parties; its favourite haunts are broads thickly grown with rush, in which it feeds and sports, comparatively seldom showing itself in the open water. As a rule it does not at once rise when guns are fired, as the other Ducks do, but, if at the outside of the rush, scuttles into these for concealment, as a Coot would do, and if in them already, remains there perfectly quiet until the boats push within sixty or seventy yards of it; then it rises, generally one at a time, and even though fired at, not unfrequently again drops into the rush within a couple of hundred yards. When there has been a good deal of shooting on a lake, and almost all the other ducks, and with them, of course, some of these, are circling round and round high in the air, you still keep, as you push through the reeds and rushes, continually, flushing the Marbled Duck, and the broad must be small, or the hunting very close and long continued, to induce all the Marbled Ducks to take wing. Of course, where there is little cover (though there you never meet with this Duck in large numbers) they rise and fly about with other ducks; but their tendency in these respects is rather coot-like than duck-like. Individuals may take wing at the first near shot, but the great majority of them stick to the rush as long as this is possible; and on two occasions I saw very pretty shooting, boats in line pushing up a wide extent of rush-grown water, and the Marbled Duck rising every minute in front of us at distances of sixty or seventy yards, like Partridges out of some of our great Norfolk turnip-fields ; here and there a Shoveller, or a White-eyed Duck, both of which, when disturbed, cling a good deal to cover, would be flushed; but there were not one of these to ten of the Marbled Duck. This species is not amongst first-class ducks for the table; it ranks with the Shoveller and the White-eyed Duck, and after obtaining a goodly array of specimens, we never shot it, first-class Ducks, Gadwall, Mallard, and Pin-tail, as well as the Indian Canvas-back (Aythya ferina) being always available."
Subsequently he wrote :—" The flight of this species, though Teal-like, is less rapid and flexible (if I may coin an expression to represent the extreme facility with which that species turns and twists in the air) than that of the Common Teal. It more nearly resembles that of the Garganey, but is less powerful, and less rapid, even than that of this latter species. There is something of the Gadwall in it, but it wants the ease of this. It flies much lower, too, and, as already mentioned, much more readily re-settles after being disturbed. I have hardly ever seen them swimming in the open, and in the rushes they make, of course, slow progress. When wounded, they dive, but for no great distance, and then persistently hold on under water in any clump of rush or weed, with only their bills above water. I have never seen them on land in a wild state, but some captured birds, whose wings had been clipped, walked very lightly and easily; and, though they had been but a few days in confinement, they were very tame, and could, I should imagine, be easily domesticated.
" As a whole I consider them poor, rather sluggish ducks, very much disposed to take life easy, and in a dolce far niente style, and lacking in every line the vigour and energy that characterise races born and bred within the hardy north."
Regarding the nesting of this species in Spain, we have the following excellent note by Colonel Irby, as quoted by Mr. Dresser :—" In Andalucia this species is a summer migrant, arriving from March to May. I have heard of three having been killed late in February; but I myself first noticed it on the 23rd of March. They are tolerably numerous on the marismas and other suitable localities, where they remain to breed, leaving us again in September. I never saw any or heard of their occurrence here except between the dates above given. In 1871 I had two nests, with the eggs, brought to me, the female having been, in both cases, shot off the nest. Both these nests were found in the same small, circular, isolated patch of short, spiky rushes, not more than ten feet in diameter, and surrounded by dried mud. I went myself to inspect the place, which is in that part of the marismas near the Coto del Rey, called Las Carnecerias, so termed because in former years the wolves used to kill the sheep there. The nests were formed of small broken bits of dried rushes mixed with a large quantity of down. One nest was taken on the 30th of May, and contained ten fresh eggs, and in the female was another ready for exclusion, which was broken in the fall of the bird. The other nest contained eleven fresh eggs, and was taken on the 7th of June. All these eggs are exactly similar in size and colour. In shape they are inclined to be elliptical, and are in colour yellowish white or buff."
Eleven eggs of this Duck in the British Museum, of which seven were taken by Colonel Irby on the 30th May, as above related, are uniformly of a deep cream-colour. They are as nearly as possible elliptical, very smooth and rather glossy. They measure from 1.65 to 1.95 in length, and from 1.25 to 1.4 in breadth.
In the adult male the forehead and the front part of the crown are dull white, cross-barred with black; the hinder part of the crown and the hindneck pale buff, cross-barred with black. There is a blackish patch round the eye extending to the ears. The sides of the head and neck, the chin, throat, and foreneck are white, streaked with brown. The mantle is greyish brown, each feather with a dark cross-band and a pale tip. The back and scapulars are dark greyish brown, each feather with a large pale buff spot at the tip. The feathers of the rump and the upper tail-coverts are greyish brown with darker centres and buff tips. The tail-feathers are greyish brown, the middle pair darker and with whitish tips. The wing-coverts are brownish grey with pale buff margins. The primaries are dark grey with brown tips ; and a portion of the outer web of the first five, near the tip, silvery grey. The outer secondaries are paler grey, forming a speculum which is inconspicuous, but paler than the other parts of the wing. The inner, long secondaries are pale brown. The breast is greyish white with partially concealed brown bars. The abdomen is dull white. The under tail-coverts and the sides of the body are whitish barred with brown. The under wing-coverts are chiefly white, and the axillaries are white, barred with brown at the tip.
The adult female resembles the male, but has a much shorter crest, and is not barred on the hindneck. The patch round the eye is pale brown.
The young bird does not differ much from the adult female. It is of a rather lighter colour, and there are some fulvous tips on the lower plumage.
Male : length nearly 19 ; wing 8 1/4; tail 3 1/2. Female: length about 17; wing barely 8 ; tail about 3. The bill is bluish grey, black on the tip and along the ridge of the upper mandible.
The legs are horny brown with black webs. The irides are brown. Weight up to rather more than 1 1/4 lb.