115. THE RED-CRESTED POCHARD.
Netta rufina, (PALLAS).
Outer primaries with the outer web much darker than the inner; inner primaries with both webs of the same white or pale grey colour as the speculum ; all tipped dusky.
Bill partially or entirely red, narrower near the tip than at the base. Head fully crested.
MALE :—Lower plumage, from the lower neck to the tail, dark glossy brown; sides of the body largely white.
FEMALE :—Lower plumage, from the bill to the tail, uniform dull white or pale grey; sides of the body brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Lall-chonch, Lall-sir, Hind. ; Rattoba, Ratoha, Sind; Doomer, male, Sunwa, female, Nepal ; Hero-hans, male, Chobra-hans, female, Beng.
THE Red-crested Pochard is a winter visitor to a large portion of the Indian Empire. In the northern half of the Indian peninsula this species is rather common, but in the southern half it is a somewhat rare bird, although distributed over the whole area, extending even to Ceylon. With regard to its occurrence in this island, Mr. E. L. Layard, although he did not actually procure a specimen, says, " I am as sure of it as one can be of anything in this world."
This Pochard does not appear to have been recorded from Kashmir, but it must, most certainly, occur in that country, for it lies between the summer and winter quarters of this species; it moreover occurs in winter in the Himalayas, certainly as far east as Nepal.
The Red-crested Pochard extends throughout Bengal, and is frequently to be seen for sale in the Calcutta market. It is found throughout Assam, up to the extreme eastern point of that province. Mr. Hume observed this species at the Logtak lake in Manipur, and there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of Blyth's statement that he received it from Bhamo. None of my numerous friends, however, in Upper Burma or the Shan States has met with it in those regions, and probably it is not found south of the second defile of the Irrawaddy river.
This Pochard has a very considerable range in the temperate zone, but does not generally pass north of the 50th degree of latitude. Some birds of this species appear to be resident in Spain, the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Seas, and in Turkestan. Most Pochards of this species, however, migrate northwards in the spring for nesting purposes, and move southwards on the approach of winter, a vast number visiting India, which is probably their winter headquarters. This Pochard is not found far to the eastward, but in the British Museum there is a specimen from Lobnor and another from some part of China, probably the western portion of that country.
I can find very few original notes about the habits of the Red-crested Pochard, and I have never observed the bird myself. I shall therefore give some extracts from Messrs. Hume and Marshall's "Game Birds." Mr. Hume says :—" When much molested they are shy and very difficult to work, but fresh fowl that have not been before shot at that season, can always be easily approached within swivel range, though they usually keep outside the limits of efficiency of ordinary fowling pieces." Referring to the erroneous statement made by Mr. Dresser, that this Duck does not dive but feeds like the Mallard by merely bobbing the front part of its body under water, Mr. Hume continues :— "The fact is, that though you may, at times, see it dibbling about the water like Teal and Shovellers, or again feeding as he describes, its normal habit and practice is to dive, and I have watched flocks of them, scores of times, diving, for an hour at a time, with a pertinacity and energy unsurpassed by any other wild fowl. Examine closely their favourite haunts, and you will find these to be almost invariably just those waters in which they must dive for their food. Deep broads, where the feathery water-weed beds do not reach within several feet of the surface, not the comparatively shallow ones, where the same weeds (the character of their leaves, however, changed by emergence) lie in thick masses coiled along the surface. . . . Though constantly seen feeding by day, when in suitable situations, they also feed a good deal during the night, and those whose day quarters happen for the time to be waters that yield little food, leave these at dusk for more prolific haunts. Perhaps they mostly move at that time; certainly you very commonly shoot them when out flighting, and at that time they are usually in pairs or small parties, very rarely in large flocks.
" They are strong but heavy fliers, and they are slow in getting under weigh : but for some reason which I have failed to discover (for in daylight they do not rise very perpendicularly), they are very seldom caught in the standing net.
" On the whole, taking them all round, they are perhaps the most troublesome fowl to work, as they are certainly, in my opinion, the handsomest that we have much to do with in India ; and there is no species that I have more often watched or more closely studied.
" I have sometimes found them out of the water, on the land, a yard or two from the water's edge, grazing and picking up small shells and insects, and they then walk better than the other Pochards ; but it is rare to see them thus, though from the frequency with which they are caught along with Gadwall and other Ducks by fall-nets on baited sward, it is probable that during the night they more readily leave the water.
" Their call-note, not very often heard by day unless they are alarmed, is quite of the Pochard character—not the quack of a duck, but a deep grating kurr. Occasionally the, males only, I think, emit a sharp sibilant note—a sort of whistle, quite different from that of the Wigeon, and yet somewhat reminding one of that. . . .
" As a rule, these birds are always in mixed flocks, and I have never seen any party consisting only of females; but I have, perhaps a dozen times in my life, come across flocks (one of them numbering fully fifty individuals) composed of adult males only.
" I have forgotten to notice their very characteristic wing-rustle, which, though resembling that of the Pochard, is louder and harsher; their wings are short, and rapidly agitated make a very distinct, palpitating, rushing sound, by which even a single bird, passing anywhere near one in the stillness of the night, can generally be recognised."
I cannot find any recent account of the breeding of the Red-crested Pochard. In the British Museum there are eggs of this species taken in Spain, Algeria, and on the Danube. Of the Algerian eggs, taken on June 9th, 1857, Salvin wrote long ago :—" In the open pools at the upper end of the marsh of Zana, I used frequently to see several pairs of the Red-crested Duck. Two nests only were obtained. The second lot, consisting of seven eggs, were of a most brilliant fresh-green colour when unblown ; the contents were no sooner expelled, and the egg dry, than the delicate tints were gone, and their beauty sadly diminished."
The eggs are nearly truly elliptical, very smooth, and fairly glossy. In colour they are a pale delicate green. They measure from 2.3 to 2.45 in length and from 1.55 to 1.75 in breadth.
The adult male has the forehead, crown and crest cinnamon; the whole of the sides of the head, the chin, throat, and the sides and front of the upper neck rich vinous chestnut. The hindneck and the sides and front of the lower neck are black, the feathers short and of a velvety texture. The upper part of the mantle, the sides ef the breast, and the lower plumage are glossy dark brown. A very large white patch occupies nearly the whole of the side of the body, and the black feathers margining this patch are more or less vermiculated with white. The lower part of the mantle and the whole back are pale drab-brown, many of the feathers next the black part of the mantle being ver¬miculated. with white. The rump and the upper tail-coverts are black.
The outer web of the tail-feathers is brown, the inner whitish. The scapulars are light drab-brown, the bases white, forming a large patch. The margin of the wing is broadly white. The upper wing-coverts and the long inner secondaries are "greyish brown. The outer primaries are white on the inner web, the tip black; dark brown on the outer web, more or less paler near the shaft. The inner primaries are white on both webs, the tips black. The outer secondaries are white, or very pale grey, with a blackish band near the tip, and a narrow, white, terminal margin. The following two or three secondaries are pale ashy brown, with a very narrow and indistinct darker margin on the outer web. The under wing-coverts and the axillaries are white.
The adult female has the forehead, the crown, the hindneck and a small space under the eye, rich brown. The remainder of the head and neck is pale ashy grey. The whole lower plumage is dull white or pale grey, the centres of the feathers slightly darker, causing a somewhat mottled appearance. The sides of the body are pale brown. The axillaries are white ; the under wing-coverts greyish. The back, the upper wing-coverts, the inner secondaries and the upper tail-coverts are of a pale drab-brown, very similar to the same parts in the male. The scapulars are lighter, and the rump darker, brown. All the feathers of the upper plumage are more or less margined paler. The quills of the wing are similar to those of the male, but the light parts of the primaries and secondaries are a darker grey. The tail is brown, with the outer feathers whitish.
In post-nuptial plumage, the drake is said to be very similar to the duck, but may be distinguished by the brighter colour of the bill and eyelids, by the larger crest, by the darker colour of the lower plumage, and by the redder colour of the feet.
Ducklings change from down into a plumage resembling that of the female, but very soon after the change the young drake commences to assume some black feathers on the mantle and breast, by means of which it may be easily recognised and distinguished from the female.
Adult males, after the autumn moult, have the feathers of the dark parts of the plumage margined with pale fringes, which wear away in the course of the winter. In the spring, the under wing-coverts and the large white patch on the sides of the body become tinged with pink.
Male: length about 21; wing 10 1/2; tail 3. Female : length about 20 ; wing 10; tail 2 3/4. The male has the bill crimson, with the nail pinkish; the female has the bill blackish, with the tip and sides red. The irides vary from brown to red, according to age. The legs vary from yellowish brown to orange-brown, the webs blackish. Weight up to rather more than 2 3/4 lb.