2285. Erismatura leucocephala

(2285) Erismatura leucocephala.

The Stiff-tailed Duck.

Anas leucocephala Scopoli, Annus I, Hist. Nat., p, 65 (1769) (No locality. North Italy). Erismatura leucocephala. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 466.

Vernacular names. None recorded.

Description. - Male. Grown black, narrow forehead, sides of the head, including round the eye, chin, upper throat and nape white; a blackish ring round the neck just below the nape and upper throat; back, scapulars, rump and sides of body chestnut-rufous, sometimes tinged buff, finely vermiculated and speckled with blackish; upper tail-coverts dark chestnut; tail blackish; wings brown, the coverts and outer webs of the outer secondaries speckled with buff; breast and sides dull rufous-chestnut or ferruginous, irregularly barred with dull black; remainder of lower parts dull pale rufous-buff or buff, the dark bases of the feathers showing as bars or mottling; under wing-coverts grey, paler and whitish in the centre; axillaries white.

Colours of soft parts. Iris dark brown; bill pale slaty-ultramarine to bluish-plumbeous; duller in females and young birds; legs plumbeous-black, the webs and toes black.

Measurements. Wing, 160 to 168 mm., 150 to 157 mm.; tail about 95 to 101 mm.; tarsus about 34 to 37 mm.; culmen, 46 to 49 mm,, 45 to 47 mm.

Female. Has the white on the face restricted to the chin, lower cheeks and a stripe from the gape towards the nape; the rest of the sides of the head is mixed with dull rufous; the upper tail-coverts are concolorous with the rump; the breast is a duller rufous and the black bars are obsolete or wanting.

Young males only differ from the females in being somewhat more richly tinted above.

Nestling in down. General colour greyish-brown, the upper parts of the head darker and browner; a paler grey streak from the base of the bill, running under the eye to the nape ; chin, throat and upper part of neck greyish-white mottled with dusky; a pale grey spot behind the wings on each side; edge of wings and below them nearly white.

Distribution. The countries surrounding the Mediterranean and Western Central Asia, according to Finsch as far North as Southern Siberia, wandering North in Europe to Germany and Holland and straggling South in Winter to India. In this last country it occurs only as a very casual visitor. It was first recorded in 1879, when two were shot at Khelat-i-ghilzai by St. John ; in 1886 Field shot one in Loodhiana and in 1882 Chill obtained three others near Delhi. Others have been recorded from Philibeet District (Lean); 1891, Halkote (Burke); 1896, Hardwur (Davis), three on the Granges, Kadur (Onslow & Campbell); 1898, three specimens, Kashmir (A. E. Ward)-, 1907, several times in Kashmir; 1908, two immature, Noushera (Tenison); one, Sakkur (Ommaney); 1906-7, many seen Kohat (Whitehead); 1910-11, many seen and shot (Logan Hume); and 1916 (Bailey) and in the latter year five specimens were sent to the Bombay Museum from Langi-Nawar by Hotson. Since then other birds have been seen and shot almost yearly on the North-West Frontier and the bird must be a fairly regular visitor, though in very small numbers, to the extreme North-West and Kashmir.

Nidification. The Stiff-tailed Duck breeds during April, May and early June on inland ponds, lakes and marshes, making a nest of grass, rushes and weeds which is well concealed in dense grass or weeds but not in long reed beds. In some cases the nest is said to be thickly lined with pure white down but in others there is said to be little or no down at all. The eggs number six to ten, and are very unlike the eggs of most ducks in appearance. They are pure white, sometimes, it is said, faintly tinged with green and have a very coarse, rough texture, the surface slightly chalky and with no gloss. They are immense for the size of the bird, one hundred eggs averaging 66.3 x 51.1 mm.; maxima 72.5 x 50.5 and 68.5 x 53.5 mm.; minima 62.8 x 52.0 and 66.0 x 48.0 mm.

Habits. This curious little duck is almost more like a grebe than a duck in the way it swims, dives and flies. Swimming it can either ride lightly on the top of the water or it can move about wholly submerged except for its head and neck. When swimming it either carries its tail erect like a Wren or submerged so that it can be employed as a rudder when birds play about, looking, as Chapman and Buck describe them, more like a shoal of small porpoises than birds. When shot at they often prefer to escape by diving and swimming than by flying, though when well on the wing they get along at a fair pace. They rise from the water like grebes, skittering along the top for a long way before they get away from it. On land they are said to be singularly helpless and hardly able to walk. It is a freshwater species living on fish, frogs, worms, mollusca and Crustacea.

The Fauna Of British India, Including Ceylon And Burma-birds(second Edition)
Baker, EC S (1922–1930) The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Second edition. vol.6 1929.
Title in Book: 
2285. Erismatura leucocephala
Book Author: 
Edward Charles Stuart Baker
Page No: 
Common name: 
Stiff Tailed Duck
White-headed Duck
Oxyura leucocephala
Vol. 6

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