(2286) Mergellus albellus.
Mergus albellus Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ed., i, p. 129 (1758) (Mediterranean Sea, Europe) ; Blanf. & Oates, iv. p. 467.
Vernacular names. Nikenne (Hind.); Jhali (Sind).
Description. - Male. A large patch from the base of both mandibles to the back of the eye and including base of ear-coverts, black with green reflections ; subordinate and lateral feathers of the crest the same, the black extending in a narrow line, more or less, on the sides of the head; a crescentic black band above the upper back, running down each side of the breast; back black, duller on the lower back and changing to brown-grey on the rump and upper tail-coverts, where the feathers are dark-centred ; rest of head and lower surface white; primaries brown, dark-shafted above, white-shafted below; outer secondaries black with white tips, the next two or three white, the innermost silver-grey with dark shafts and white outer edges; greater coverts black, those over the secondaries tipped with white; median coverts white; the remainder black; scapulars white, the outer edged with black, giving them a barred appearance; a black bar across the base from the centre of the back, over the shoulders of the wings and down each side of the body: flanks white, very finely barred with black ; under aspect of tail pale grey.
Colours of soft parts. Iris pearl-grey in very old birds, red or bright red in younger and brown and grey-brown in birds younger still; bill pale plumbeous, varying from a pale bluish to rather dark slaty, the nail darker and browner, but whitish at the extreme tip; legs and feet pale blue-grey to lavender or slaty-plumbeous, the webs slaty-black to black and the claws brownish-black.
Measurements. Wing, 190 to 205mm., 178 to 190 mm.; tail about 70 to 77 mm.; tarsus 29 to 33 mm.; culmen, 27 to 30 mm., 25 to 29 mm.
Weight, 1 lb. 4 oz. to 1 lb. 12 oz., 1 lb. to 1 lb. 8 oz.
Female. The black loreal patch in the male is replaced by rich dark brown, almost black in very old females; the whole upper head, crest and nape ferruginous-brown, richest and reddest at the end of the crest; upper back grey-brown, changing to blackish-brown on the lower back and, again, to dark grey-brown on the rump, upper tail-coverts and tail; wing like those of the male but the innermost secondaries darker and browner, the lesser coverts brown instead of black; breast mottled grey; rest of lower plumage white, more or less mottled with dark brown; axillaries grey.
Colours of soft parts as in the male but the iris always brown.
Young males resemble the female but have no dark loreal patch and the crest is darker and duller; the white wing-patch is more or less suffused with brown and the breast is more spotted.
Males in eclipse plumage differ from the females in having the white wing-bar larger and the lesser wing-coverts darker; they also show the two black crescentic bands on the sides of the breast.
Nestling in down. Upper parts dark brown, including the sides of the head; a small white spot below the eye; there are also white spots on each side, one on the posterior edge of the wing and on the sides of the back just behind the wing, and, the second on the back near the rump; breast and flanks brown or dusky, remainder of lower parts white.
Distribution. Breeding in Northern Europe from North of the Baltic to East Northern Bussia. It is said also to breed on the Volga and in Dobrudgea. In Winter it migrates to Southern Europe, North-West Africa to Egypt and to India, China and Japan.
Nidification. The Smew normally breeds during June and early July, making no nest but laying its eggs in natural hollows in trees standing by streams, lakes and marshes. The lining of down is very plentiful and, by the time incubation is advanced,, the eggs are almost buried in it. Very often the bird makes use of one of the nesting-boxes which the Finns put up for Ducks to breed in, taking the first lot of eggs for food and allowing the second laying to be hatched. The eggs are generally eight to ten, often less and occasionally as many as thirteen or fourteen. In colour they are a pale creamy-buff, very smooth and satiny in texture, with a fine gloss. One hundred and thirty-seven eggs average 52.2 x 37.5 mm.: maxima 58.0 X 40.5 mm.; minima 47.7 X 34.0 mm.
Col. A. E. Wards records finding this duck breeding at Shyok,. in Ladak.
Habits. The Smew is a regular visitor in small numbers to the North-West of India and it has been found as far South as Cuttack, Raniganj in Bengal, and Hazaribagh in Chota Nagpur. In Assam it is not common and I seldom met with it, though both Stevens and Coltart found it on the streams where they debouched from the foot-hills. In Europe it is as much a sea bird as a freshwater bird, or even more so in the non-breeding season but here in India it seems always to be found in small flocks on quickly-running, clear-water streams. Its food consists chiefly of fish but it also eats small Crustacea and mollusca, all sorts of larvae, worms and insects and, it is said, occasionally a little vegetable food. It is a wonderful swimmer and diver and is faster on the wing than the true Mergansers, having a noiseless flight, which it makes with very rapidly-beating wings. Its call is a harsh "kir-r-r," uttered frequently during the breeding-season but seldom at other times.
Most of our Indian visitors are immature birds.