114. THE PINK-HEADED DUCK.
Rhodonessa caryophyllacea, (LATHAM).
Outer primaries with the outer web much darker than the inner; inner primaries with both webs of the same pale vinous drab as the speculum ; all tipped with dusky.
Axillaries brown, mottled with white.
Whole lower plumage, together with the sides of the body, of one uniform dark colour.
MALE : Chin, throat, and foreneck black; crown of head pink.
FEMALE : Chin, throat and foreneck pink crown of head brown.
VERNACULAR NAMES -.—Lal-sira, Golab Lal-sir, Hind.; Doomrar, Nepal Terai; Doomar, Tirhoot; Saknal, Beng.
THE distribution of the Pink-headed Duck was for many years a matter of much uncertainty, but it is now fairly well known. Commencing with the north-west portion of India, this Duck has been found on several occasions near Delhi. It is not uncommon near Lucknow, and Colonel M. Tweedie met with a very large number of these Ducks a little north of Kheeri, in Oudh, in May.
Continuing along the north, we find that Hodgson observed this Duck in Nepal and Pemberton in Bhutan. It has been recorded from many parts of Bengal, and it is exposed for sale sometimes in the Calcutta market. Ball procured it at Sahibgunj on the Ganges, the Rajmehal Hills, Hazaribagh and Man-bhum. Mr. J. H. Taylor observed it at Khorda, in Orissa, and it is found down the east coast as far, at least, as Madras.
On the west coast, the Rev. S. B. Fair-bank observed this Duck in the vicinity of Khandala, near Bombay.
East of Bengal, the species occurs, according to Mr. Hume, throughout the Assam valley up to Sadiya. It also occurs in Sylhet and Manipur. According to Blyth, it has been Obtained near Bhamo and also in Arrakan. My friend Mr. E. Gabbett informs me that four of these Ducks were shot near Mandalay, and that he examined the birds and was sure of their identity.
There is no country outside the limits of the Indian Empire from which the Pink-headed Duck has been recorded, and it is therefore probable that it is restricted to the Empire, being migratory to a small extent according to climate and rainfall.
Mr. Frank B. Simson has written an interesting account of this Duck in the " Ibis," and as it was published after the issue of Messrs. Hume and Marshall's work, and is not referred to in Mr. Stuart Baker's account of this species in a recent volume of the Journal of the Natural History Society of Bombay, I shall reproduce it nearly in full. He says :— "The Pink-headed Duck is a bird little known to the Bengal sportsman and ornithologist, and considered rare. It is, however, far from uncommon in a restricted area of Bengal, and may be said to make its home in the southern part of the district of Purneah, and in the country which borders the left or northern bank of the Ganges, between the Coosy River, which separates Purneah from Bhaugulpore, and in the Maldah district. It is found more sparingly in Bhaugulpore and Tirhoot, and occasionally in likely places in the North-Western Provinces and in Upper India. Jerdon records it from Madras, though he never saw it in the flesh there. Specimens have been obtained in the Calcutta bazaar, which has yielded more ornithological rarities than any single place in India. Colonel Irby tells me he met with it, and this can be relied on. But many people in Bengal have told me that they had shot it in various places; nevertheless, whenever I could test these statements, I never found that any such Duck had been killed lower in Eastern Bengal than Maldah. The birds called Pink-headed always turned out to be Red-crested Pochards.
" The country mentioned on the north of the Ganges which I have referred to as the home of this Duck is alluvial, and consists of vast, extensive, and much-neglected plains, studded at considerable intervals with small poor villages, intersected with very deep clear streams, all running to the Ganges and abounding in crocodiles. These plains are difficult to cross on foot in the dry season, except by paths which cannot be called roads; elephants are generally used by all but the poor to travel with across these wastes, which are often inundated when the Ganges rises high. To such an extent do these inundations occasionally prevail that the human inhabitants are compelled to take to boats, while the deer and game generally resort to the few highest spots, where they are often slaughtered. The tigers have even been known to live for a time in trees, where, apparently, they feed on turtles, small crocodiles, and dead animals which come floating near the trees.
" Scattered among these plains are pools of deep water, extending over areas of from ten to forty acres, abounding in wild fowl and crocodiles, surrounded by very high grass with stalks like thin bamboo. A few stumpy trees, hidgels and others, grow in this grass, the pools are covered with beautiful lotus plants, and here the Pink-headed Duck resorts at all seasons of the year. . . .
" One morning in May, very early, I was standing, almost without clothes, at the door of a travelling bungalow on the trunk-road in Purneah, watching two Florikens with a binocular as they wheeled about in the sky, when about a dozen dark Ducks, with lovely, rosy, light-coloured feathers under their wings, alighted in a tank close by. I immediately got my gun, and fortunately was able to get close and bag two. After this I was always on the look-out, and shot numbers of them before I left that part of Bengal.
"Dr. Jerdon visited me while I was stationed at Purneah, and told me he had never seen the bird alive, and that the picture in his illustrations was drawn from a dried skin. I promised to show him and get him some specimens, and I did so in this wise. We were both at a shooting-party given by that hospitable planter and owner of Kolassy, so well known and liked in Purneah, and were shooting with a long line of elephants, looking for that wonderful tiger which is always there when no one has a gun or wants him, and always somewhere else when made an object of special pursuit. In default of this tiger we shot buffaloes, deer, Floriken, and Partridges, and shouted at hogs which were reserved for the spear. Whilst going on I marked a small party of Pink-headed Ducks into one of the pools I have described, and immediately told Jerdon that if he would leave the party and come with me I thought I could get a nice shot at his long-coveted birds. So we took four elephants and started.
"Of course, with noisy splashing animals, any approach to Ducks was impossible ; on the other hand the pool was full of huge crocodiles : we could see them with our glasses. However, I agreed to go on foot, the elephants to come to me the moment the shots were fired. I passed through the tall bamboo-grass in water deepening until it was nearly up to my waist till I came to the edge, and found myself about twenty yards from ten or a dozen of the Ducks. They were not sitting close together, so I shot the finest with one barrel, and another as they rose, and I made off to the elephants as hard as I could. . . .
" The Duck's plumage is fully described by Jerdon and Hume ; I need only refer here to its habits. It lives in this country all the year round; generally it is found in small flocks of from eight to twelve : probably these are the old birds and the young ones of the year. It never associates, so far as I saw, with other Ducks, nor gets into large flocks. In the breeding season it pairs and nests in short grass on dry land at some distance from the pools. I have seen the eggs, but cannot now describe them. I have had the young ones brought to me, and should think they could be easily domesticated, for the bird seems exactly like the Mallard, except in size and plumage. I have never met with the bird far from these plains, and I remarked its absence when shooting at the foot of the Himalaya lowest ranges in the north of Purneah. The taste of this Duck when cooked is inferior; indeed, I prefer every other Duck save the Shoveller to it, and consider it worse than the Brahminy Duck or Whistling Teal.
" There are many reasons why the Pink-headed Duck is not well known. One I have just given, viz., that it is poor on the table; another is that it is never very numerous nor goes in flocks; the native shikarrie can never kill a lot at one shot, nor net a large number. The sahib can never get many shots in one day, nor is his prize when gained so valuable to him as the other Ducks, which are so much more numerous, and so much better to eat. It does not associate much with other Ducks, but keeps rather to itself, and seldom is seen flying to the feeding-ground before sunset, but stays all day in the pools, where it lives till disturbed. But if a person residing in Purneah, Bhaugulpur, or Maldah, chooses to make the bird an object of special pursuit, he should have no difficulty in procuring as many as would be necessary."
To the above, I may add some notes published by Mr. F. A. Shillingford in the " Asian " some years ago. He writes : —" During the cold weather, November to March, the Pink-headers remain in flocks varying from six to thirty, or even forty birds, in the lagoons adjoining the larger rivers, and have been observed by myself in considerable numbers in the southern and western portions of the district, that portion of Eastern Bhaugalpur which lies immediately to the north of the river Ganges and south-western parts of Maldah. They come up to the central or higher parts of the Purneah district in pairs, during the month of April, begin to build in May, and their eggs may be found in June and July. The nests are well formed (made of dry grass interspersed with a few feathers), perfectly circular in shape, about nine inches in diameter and four or five inches deep, with three- to four-inch walls, and have no special lining. The nests are placed in the centre of tufts of tall grass, well hidden and difficult to find, generally not more than five hundred yards from water. They lay from five to ten eggs in a nest. Both the male and female have been started simultaneously from the vicinity of the nest, but whether the former assists in incubation is uncertain, though judging from the loss of weight during the breed¬ing season, the male must be in constant attendance at the nest."
The call of this Duck, according to the same writer, resembles that of the Mallard, with a slight musical ring about it. The stomach of a specimen which Mr. Shillingford examined contained water weeds and various kinds of small shells.
Jerdon, who was perhaps as well acquainted with this Duck as any one, writes:—" It shows a decided preference for tanks and jheels well sheltered by overhanging bushes, or abounding in dense reeds, and in such places it may be found in the cold season in flocks of twenty or so occasionally, but generally in smaller parties of from four to eight. During the heat of the day it generally remains near the middle of the tank or jheel, and is somewhat shy and wary."
The eggs of this Duck are very remarkable. They are extremely smooth and polished, and very nearly spherical in shape. In colour they are a pale yellowish cream-colour. The five eggs in the Hume collection, presented by Mr. Shillingford, measure from 1.71 to 1.82 in length and from 1.61 to 1.7 in breadth. Four of these eggs were taken in the Purneah District on the 3rd July, 1880. The fifth egg was taken in the same locality, but is without date.
The adult male has the chin, the throat, the front of the neck, and the whole lower plumage, together with the sides of the body, of one uniform chocolate-brown. The whole head, the hindneck and sides of the neck are rosy pink. The whole upper plumage, scapulars and tail are dark brown or blackish, the back and scapulars with some grey speckles or vermiculations. The margin of the wing is broadly white. The upper wing-coverts are brown. The outer webs of the outer primaries are brown ; the inner, pale drab on the half next the shaft, white on the other half, and tipped dusky. The inner primaries are vinous drab on both webs and tipped dusky; the inner edge more or less white. The outer secondaries are vinous drab on the outer web, with white tips and concealed white bases; entirely white on the inner web. The inner secondaries are glossy brown, those immediately following the speculum with a narrow, black margin on the outer web. The under wing-coverts are pinkish white; the axillaries brown, mottled with white at their base.
According to Jerdon, the male at the breeding season has the crown of a richer pink than the other parts of the head.
The adult female, in most respects, resembles the adult male. The body plumage and the wings are, however, rather paler. The chin, the throat, and the front of the neck, instead of being brown, as in the male, are pink, like the sides of the head. A broad brown band occupies the forehead, the crown and back of the head. Many of the feathers of the body are margined paler.
The young birds of both sexes appear to assume a first plumage which closely resembles that of the adult female.
The sexes are of much the same size. Length about 23; wing about 10; tail about 3 1/2. The bill is reddish white, dirty red or light pink; irides red; legs and feet varying from slate-colour to blackish. The weight appears to run up to rather more than 2 lb.