Rhodonessa caryophyllacea

Pink-headed Duck.

Rhodonessa caryophyllacea.

Golabi sir, Hindustani.

The pink-headed duck stands quite alone in coloration among our birds.. Its body is as black as ink—the brownish Indian ink; its head is as pink as new blotting-paper, in the case of the drake at any rate ; the duck's head is like the same pink blotting-paper after it has become faded and soiled, with a long black blot on the crown. Her plumage generally is duller and rustier than the drake's, and her bill is black, whereas his is fleshy-white; but the general resemblance is close. The young are also duller than the old drake, have drab heads, and underneath are of a dirty mottled brown; but the- whole family are easily distinguished by the buff tint of the quills of the wings, noticeably contrasting in flight with the dark body. Young drakes assume the white bill before getting the full plumage, and the old ones in undress have the duck's black crown-streak, but otherwise do not change colour.

The size of the pink-headed duck is about that of the mallard or spotted-bill, but it is more slenderly built, the head and neck being positively lean, and the latter is generally carried with a backward curve. The weight is about a couple of pounds.

This most extraordinary duck is a resident with us, but unfortunately has a very limited range, being practically con¬fined to certain districts of Upper Bengal, being fairly common in Purneah and Tirhoot, and also found in Bhagalpur and Maldah ; outside this district it is rare everywhere, though stray specimens have turned up as far away from its home as Nepal, Delhi, Bhamo, and Madras, which localities about mark off its limits to the north, west, east, and south. Latham, writing a century ago, said it was common in Oudh; but even if his information was correct then, it is as rare there now as in the north-west generally. I fear it is getting rarer still, as when I was in India in the nineties one could generally see about half-a-dozen in the Calcutta Market in a winter, though as much as Rs. 15 each would be asked for them ; they were kept alive, having a well-known value as ornamental birds; but now, I am told by friends from Calcutta, that an offer of Rs. 100 per bird would probably produce not a single specimen. Yet not many have reached Europe alive so far, and none, so far as I know, have bred in captivity anywhere.

It is just possible, of course, that the birds have not been extensively caught or shot out, but simply " shyed," as our bird-catchers say, by too persistent netting, as they bear so high a value. As I said in my book on Indian ducks, I think this bird should not be killed at all; it would be no loss to the game list, being a bad table bird, and not numerous enough even in its metropolis to be a regular object of pursuit. It is usually seen in small parties only, but flocks of thirty are on record; naturally in the breeding season pairs only are to be seen. Fortunately the localities the birds mostly affect are out-of-the-way bits of standing water, well supplied with reeds and other cover, and situated in forest. The bird, however, unlike most of our resident ducks, is not a percher, and nests in the high grass, sometimes hundreds of yards from water. The eggs are as extraordinary as the bird itself, being so rounded and white that they look almost like unpolished billiard-balls. The number laid varies from five to twice as many, and the nests containing them are round and well formed, the materials being dry grass and a few feathers; the laying time is June and July.

The ordinary habits of this duck appear to be much the same as those of the spotted-bill, that is to say, those of an ordinary surface-feeder ; but as the bird would appear to be allied to the pochards, I may mention that I once saw one dive as neatly and as long as a pochard, though why I cannot say. The duck has been seen to employ most elaborate affectations of injury to decoy intruders from her young, and her note was described as loud quacking. I have never heard it, but the drake's is a mellow two-syllabled call, which I have tried to render as " wugh-ah." The wing-whistle is very characteristic, if the flight of the bird in an aviary is any guide ; it is clear yet soft, and the flight is easy, and in the open rapid and strong. Of the coloration of the down of the young and of the drake's display nothing is known apparently.

The bird is thoroughly well known to the natives. Besides the Hindustani names of Golabi sir or Golab-lal-sir, it has the Bengali one of Saknal, and that of Dumrar or Umar in Nepal and Tirhoot.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Rhodonessa caryophyllacea
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Pink-headed Duck
Pink-headed Duck
Rhodonessa caryophyllacea

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