100. THE INDIAN COTTON-TEAL.
Nettopus coromandelianus, (GMELIN).
Axillaries entirely black or else brown margined with grey. Nearly all the secondaries broadly tipped with white. ' Crown with a dark cap.
MALE: With a large white patch on the primaries.
FEMALE: With the primaries entirely blackish.
VERNACULAR NAMES :- Girri, Girria, Girja, Gur-gurra, Hind.; Ghangariel, Ghangani, Beng. ; Bullia-hans, Dacca, Faridpur, Sylhet; Dandana, Uriya; Lerreget-perreget, Merom-derebet, Kol.; Ade, Adla, Ratnagiri; Kalagat, Burm.
THE Indian Cotton-Teal occurs in greater or less abundance over almost the whole Indian Empire, from the base of the Himalayas to the extreme south of the peninsula, and in Ceylon; and from Assam down to Tenasserim, including the Andaman Islands. This small Duck has not yet been observed in Kashmir, in Sind, or in Cutch, and probably these tracts lie outside its range. It appears to be more abundant in Bengal and the eastern portion of the Empire than in the peninsula of India itself. With regard to its southern and eastern limits, this Teal will no doubt be found to occur to the extreme confines of the Empire, but up to the present it has not been recorded from any point in Tenasserim farther south than Tavoy; nor from any point further east in the Shan States than Kengtung, where my friend Lieutenant J. H. Whitehead recently procured it.
For a resident species of Duck the Indian Cotton-Teal has rather a wide range, being found in China, Siam, Cochin China, the Malay Peninsula and. the islands, to the Philippines and Celebes.
The Cotton-Teal affects every description of water, from the tiny ditch or pool to the large swamp, but they are not partial to clear water; they almost invariably choose water covered with weeds. In many places they are remarkably tame and confiding, and they can often be approached within a few yards. They are found in twos or threes, and sometimes in small scattered flocks, but never in very large numbers. Their flight, when once up, is remarkably swift, and they twist round corners in a wonderful manner. They do not, as a rule, fly far, but quickly settle down again. Although these Teal are surface-feeding birds, they dive with great facility, and wounded birds are generally lost. The Cotton-Teal is chiefly a day-feeder. It frequently perches on the larger branches of trees, and generally roosts on them at night. The cry of this little bird is a rather loud, chuckling cackle, uttered when flying.
Mr. Stuart Baker thus explains how such vast numbers of this Teal come to be caught near Calcutta, and to be brought to the market, throughout the cold weather:—
" In certain of the drier portions of its habitat this bird is semi-migratory in its habits, only visiting them in the rains, and leaving again for some more suitable place as the haunts in the former begin to dry up. Hume, talking of the vast numbers seen every day during the cold weather in the Calcutta market, says that it is a mystery to him where they come from. Having myself shot over some of the vast bhils and backwaters of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, I think it would take a very large number indeed to surprise me. In the places mentioned they simply swarm in thousands, and are only outnumbered by the ' Whistling Teals.' I suppose every one knows how the fishermen of the Sunderbunds and other parts net the vast numbers of Duck that are daily sent in to the Calcutta market, but in case there are some who do not, the following may explain. Over a great stretch of shallow bhil they erect nets some fifteen or twenty feet high, usually selecting the end of a large patch of water where it narrows off either into dry land or again widens out into yet another bhil. Then, by night, they pole silently up the lake towards the nets, driving the flock of duck and teal silently before them, nor is any noise made until an approach has been made to within some two hundred yards, or even less of the nets. Thus, when the shouts are raised, many of the flocks have not time to rise high enough to evade the nets, into which they fly and are entangled. Cotton Teal, of course, fly low along the surface of the water, and hence fall victims to the nets more easily than such Ducks as get quickly into the air and fly high."
The Cotton-Teal breeds throughout the rains, and nests may be found at any time from June to September, the month varying, no doubt, according to locality. In Burma I found a nest in September, and probably, in this particular case, the birds had had an earlier brood. In Ceylon they are said to breed in the early part of the year.
The nest seldom consists of anything more than a few twigs and feathers, and very frequently the eggs are laid in a hollow without any preparation. The site selected is a hole in the trunk of a tree or in a big branch; sometimes a hole in an old ruin, or even in a chimney, but seldom at any great height from the ground; although the only nest of this species that I ever found in Burma was about thirty feet from the ground.
Mr. F. R. Blewitt tells us that this Teal makes a semi-floating nest on the water, among the rushes or lotus-leaves, of weeds, grass, etc., filled up several inches above the water-level. This was on a lake near Jhansi. I have heard of no other instance of this bird making a nest on the water.
Ten is perhaps the most usual number of eggs laid in one nest, but fewer are frequently found, and in two instances quoted by Mr. Stuart Baker, the large number of twenty-two was taken from one nest.
The eggs are elliptical or nearly so, very smooth, and with a considerable amount of gloss. They are of a cream colour, and measure from 1.5 to 1.8 in length, and from 1.15 to 1.4 in breadth.
The adult male in summer plumage has the forehead blackish and the crown brown, this latter part more or less surrounded by a blackish band. The remainder of the head, the whole neck, the upper part of the mantle and the lower plumage are pure white. The sides of the body are beautifully vermiculated with brown. The under tail-coverts are black, with white bases. The axillaries and the under wing-coverts are black. A broad black collar surrounds the lower part of the neck. The back, the scapulars, all the upper wing-coverts, and the inner long secondaries are black glossed with purple and green. The primaries are black at the base and tip, white in the middle, the latter forming a conspicuous white patch. All the secondaries, except the long inner ones, are black with broad white tips, the outer webs glossed with green. The rump is black, and the upper tail-coverts white, closely vermiculated with brown, like the sides of the body. The tail is dark brown.
The adult female, at all seasons, has the forehead, and a band over the eye, dull white mottled with brown. The crown of the head and a band through the eye are dark brown. The sides of the head, the chin and the throat, are greyish white, slightly mottled with brown. The neck and the upper part of the breast are dull white, barred with brown. The mantle is dark brown, freckled with grey. The back, the rump, the scapulars, and the whole of the upper wing-coverts are dark brown, the coverts slightly glossy. The primaries are blackish, the inner ones tipped with whitish. The short secondaries are black, broadly tipped with white; the long inner secondaries are entirely brown. The upper tail-coverts are light brown more or less tipped with grey; the tail dark brown. The entire lower plumage is dull white, the dark bases of the feathers more or less visible. The axillaries are brown margined with grey, and the under wing-coverts are brown tipped with dull white. The sides of the body are brown.
The male in winter plumage resembles the female in general appearance, but retains the white patch on the primaries and the brilliant gloss on the outer webs of the secondaries and on the wing-coverts. The axillaries and the under wing-coverts are black as in summer. The black collar is wanting.
The first plumage of the young birds of both sexes resembles that of the adult female; and the young male completes the change into adult male plumage in the first spring. In a young January bird the white on the primaries is only half developed, but the wing-coverts are as glossy as in the adult male.
The female is slightly smaller than the male. Length about 13; wing 6 1/2; tail 2 1/2. The male in summer has the bill black; the irides bright red; the legs black. In winter, the upper mandible becomes brownish and the lower yellowish. The female has the bill brown above, yellowish below; the irides brown and the legs yellowish. The male weighs up to nearly 11 oz.
Near the Cotton-Teal should be placed the Mandarin Duck, Aex galeri-culata, from Southern China. This beautiful Duck is not unlikely to be met with oh the borders of the Northern Shan States. It is rather larger than a common Teal, and may be recognised at all ages, and, in the case of both the sexes, by the brown axillaries, the broad and conspicuous silvery grey margins of all the primaries, and by the bright, but ill-defined, metallic purple speculum, this colour extending over three or four secondaries. The male, in full plumage, is a gorgeous creature with a long crest, a number of long, narrow, chestnut feathers on the neck, and with a very remarkably-formed inner secondary. This feather is fan-shaped and quite three inches wide at the end. The inner web is chestnut, and the outer purple. The female, which is of plain plumage, may be separated from similarly plumaged young males, and from males, indeed, of all ages and in all phases of plumage, by the oblique white stripe which may always be found on the outer web of the first purple feather of the speculum. This stripe is just below the tips of the wing-coverts, and is always absent in the male.