Fuligula cristata, Leach.
Vernacular Names. —[ Dubaru, Ablac, N,-W. Provinces; Malac, Nepal Terai; Turando. Sindh; Nella chilluwa, (Telegu); Neer-bathoo, (Tamil); Neer-kolee, (Canarese); Sonah, Ablak, Kabul;]
VERY rarely seen in the Himalayas, the Tufted pochard is rather thinly distributed in the cold season over the Punjab and the Doab, is scarce in Rajputana, more common in Rohilkhand and Oudh, and less so again in the Central Provinces and Bundelkhand.
" In Sindh it is not very abundant; in Cutch rare ; in Kathiawar and Gujerat, in the Central India Agency, Khandesh and the Deccan fairly common.
In Bengal, Cis-Brahmaputra, it has been noticed in many districts, but I believe it to be rather scarce there, though my information on the subject is scant Damant records it, and some of Godwin-Austen's people procured it from Manipur; but I have no other information as to its occurrence east of the Brahmaputra, whether in Assam, Cachar, Sylhet, Tipperah, Chittagong or any portion of British Burma. I do not doubt that it straggles into many of these, but the fact has yet to be ascertained.
It occurs, in places in very large flocks, in Chota Nagpur, the Northern Circars and the Nizam's Dominions, straggling by the way at times into the Southern Konkan. It has been shot near Bellary, and certainly though rare there, visits Mysore; but south of this I have heard of it nowhere in the Peninsula, except in the north of the Coimbatore district, nor has it been yet recorded from Ceylon. Here too, however, our information is very imperfect, and stragglers will probably turn up in many districts whence the species has not yet been noticed.
Outside our limits, this species is said to be common in China, as far south as Formosa at any rate, (and doubtless it goes further south), from October to March, and it has likewise been obtained in Japan.
It is not scarce on the spring migration in Mongolia and at the Koko-Nor, and some few remain to breed at Lake Hanka. It is common and breeds in Dauria, arriving about the middle of May and leaving towards the close of October. Similarly it is common in South-eastern Siberia in summer. But Middendorff did not apparently meet with it in Northern Siberia, nor have our explorers met with it in Eastern Turkestan, In Western Turkestan,f however, it occurs on passage throughout and remains in some districts the whole winter. In this season, too, it is not uncommon in Afghanistan, both Northern and Southern, and has been sent from Beluchistan. It is abundant on the Caspian, and will probably prove to occur in suitable localities throughout Persia, in winter, since besides occurring in Beluchistan and on the Caspian, it has been sent from Mesopotamia, and is not uncommon at that season in Asia Minor and Palestine. In Lower Egypt it is very common, extending southwards along the Nile into Nubia, and Blanford found it in pairs, in May, on Lake Ashangi in Abyssinia in about 12° 30' North Latitude (about the same latitude as Madras), but, be it remembered, at an elevation of 8,500 feet
Westwards it is a winter visitant to the rest of Northern Africa, and it seems to occur throughout Europe (excluding Iceland), to the major portion of the Continent as a cold weather visitant only, but breeding in England occasionally, and more regularly in Norway (to the extreme north) Northern Sweden, Finland, Northern and Central Russia and Northern Germany.
I HAVE seen this Pochard as early as the 12th of October in Etawah (Doab, North- West Provinces), and again in this same district as late as the 9th of April; but taking Northern India generally, the mass of the birds do not arrive before the second week of November and leave about the close of March. They arrive later, and perhaps linger later in the south. Jerdon notes that he killed one in June in Hyderabad (Nizam's Dominions), and I have had several notes of single birds being seen in the Deccan, Gujerat and the Central India Agency in May ; but these are certainly abnormal occurrences, and I believe that even in the south it is very rare to see them after the 15 th of April, Large, fairly deep sheets of open water, surrounded however with rushes or reed beds, and with plenty of weeds in parts, are what the Tufted Duck prefers. On huge bare-shored lakes, like the S&mbhar, they are scarcely ever seen, and one very seldom meets with them on rivers. Single birds or small parties may be found on almost any broad in which the water is tolerably deep in some places, but the huge flocks in which they love to congregate are only met with on large lakes, such as I have above referred to.
At the Manchar Lake I saw two enormous flocks. I have repeatedly seen similar flocks in old times at the Najjafgarh and other vast jhils in the Punjab, the North- West Provinces and Oudh ; and I should guess that at the Kunkrowli Lake in Oodeypore there must have been nearly ten thousand, covering the whole centre of the lake.
These birds are shy, and keep during the day as a rule. so constantly in the middle of bright water, and so far from any position in which one can watch them closely, that I know but little of their habits. I fancy that they feed chiefly by day, partly because they are so constantly at work diving, both in the mornings and afternoons, and partly because I have never once shot them in India (I have in England) when flight-shooting. In places where they are unmolested you may pick up a few by long shots from an ordinary boat, or even a good number by sailing down through them ; but it is impossible here, except under special conditions, to make any real bag of them without a regular gun-punt and swivel.
This species has, I think, an easier, smoother and more rapid flight than most of the other Pochards, and rises much more rapidly and with less fluster than these ; but still like these it strikes the water once or twice with its feet, and makes a loud splashing sound when rising in numbers. It swims rather deep in the water and ' very rapidly, and dives constantly, keeping under water for a surprising time. When you try to get near them in any slow native boat, the fresh fowl seldom think of rising, but swim and dive away from you quite as quickly as the boat can go. Even when a gun is fired they do not always fly; indeed I have seen a large flock of several hundred birds disappear as if by magic; all having dived as if by one consent. If your boat can go, and you are very sharp, you may in such cases have great fun ; a tremendous spurt is put on in the direction in which the mass of the ducks seemed heading as they dived. In a minute they begin to pop up round you within shot ; they come up with a regular jerk, generally showing little more than their heads and necks, and there are just about three seconds during which you can shoot them, before realizing the circumstances they again disappear. I was once one of a party of ten guns in five boats, that got right in amongst a large flock of these Pochards that wouldn't rise, and kept them diving for, I suppose, ten minutes, during which a fusilade, such as I have seldom heard, was energetically kept up. The result was five birds killed, and three of the party and two boatmen hit (but not badly) with shot which had glanced up off the water. Four out of the five I killed, though several better shots were present, and this by a simple expedient that is worth knowing I had a few cartridges for Pelicans containing each eight, eighty to the lb. bullets ; and, finding I could not shoot quick enough to catch the birds before they got under water, I used these slug cartridges, fired only at those birds which rose close to the boat, and shot well under them.
At other times they will rise before you are within a hundred yards, and taking short flights, plump down again suddenly into the water, stern first, as if shot. In such cases you may at times work them very satisfactorily, if you chance to have a considerable party and several boats, and the lake is long and comparatively narrow. If they are comfortably settled on a sheet of water that suits them and where they have sojourned in peace for a mouth or two, it is scarcely possible to drive them away from it the first day. Next day, after they have been thoroughly harried, not a bird is sometimes to be seen, but they will scarcely quit till after dark. In this respect they are like Coots, and if means and appliances are available, they may be worked just as we work these towards the close of autumn at home. The day after the failure above related, (we spent the rest of the day snipe-shooting, killing a good many teal and other ducks round the margin), we found, directly we got on the water, that all the Tufted Pochards, instead of diving, kept rising as we approached. Then I bethought me of our Norfolk Coot-shootings, formed line, boats about 80 yards apart (this was too far, but we had to cover the breadth of the jhil), put a gun on the shore on each side and went straight at them. At first they only rose and flew ahead of us, but as we got nearer the end they began to come back over the line, pretty high, but many of them well within shot When all were up, we turned and worked backwards, in the same order, and then back again, and so on five or six times getting amongst us sixty or seventy Pochards, besides other things, and yet when we left off at dusk, the flock was there all the same. Next morning not a Pochard was to be seen, whereas the Gadwall, Teal, and other ducks that had left before our third or fourth turn was completed were all back, famously on the qui vive, but in their wonted numbers.
Though noisy enough as they splash up in a crowd out of the water, and recognizable at any time by the sharp whistling of their wings as they pass over head, they are, in winter at any rate, singularly silent birds when let alone. When alarmed and flushed they occasionally emit the regular grating Pochard call, kurr, kurr, but not so loudly, I think, as some of the other species.
On land I have never once seen them, but I should expect them to be clumsy walkers like most of the other Pochards.
Their food is perhaps more animal than vegetable. They constantly devour small fish, and one finds every kind of water-insect, worm, grub, and shells, small lizards, frogs, spawn, &c., in their stomachs. Still like the rest they eat the leaves, stems and roots of water plants freely, and I have several notes of birds which had dined (or breakfasted) entirely off some white shining onion-like bulb.
As a rule, they are not, I think, good ducks for the table. I have occasionally found them good enough ; but in earlier times they proved so often rank, or froggy or fishy, that of late years I have never cooked them when anything else was procurable ; and where you get these you are so certain to get Teal, or Gadwall, or Snipe, or Godwit, or Ruffs and Reeves all first- rate birds that I have not perhaps given them a sufficient trial, and I have heard some sportsmen declare them excellent.
Considering where Blanford met with this species in May, and presumably about to breed, we might well expect to find them breeding in the lakes of Kashmir, in 340 North Latitude, and at an elevation of between 4,000 and 5,000 feet But so far as is yet known, this species does not even occur in Kashmir, and for all particulars of its nidification we must refer to European writers.
Dresser says:—" The Tufted Duck breeds in the northern portions of Europe, the eggs being deposited early in June. The nest is placed on the ground, not far from or even close to the water. A nest, sent to me by Mr. Meves, taken at Muoniovaara, in Lapland, on the 20th June, consists of grass bents and a few-leaves felted together with a mass of sooty brownish-black down, having dull greyish-white centres; and the eggs, eight in number, are uniform pale olive-green or greenish buff in colour, smooth and polished in texture of shell, and in size average about 2.3 by 1.65 inch;" and these are precisely the dimensions of the egg taken by Wolley and figured by Mr, Hewitson in the 3rd edition of his well-known work.
Of this species likewise my old paper of measurements has been mislaid, and I have only particulars of seven birds. I fear, therefore, that the subjoined will only imperfectly represent the limits within which the species really varies.
Males.— Length, 16.6 to 17.2 ; expanse, 27.5 to 30.3 ; wing, 7.8 to 8.5 ; tail from vent, 2.5 to 3.25 ; tarsus, 1.3 to 1.4; bill from gape, 1.85 to 2.0; weight, 1 lb. 8 ozs, to 2 lbs. 1/2 oz.
Females.— Length, 15.2 to 16.75; expanse, 26.7 to 28.7; wing, 7.6 to 8.0 ; tail from vent, 2.6 to 3.0 ; tarsus, 1.2 to 1..4 ; bill from gape, 1.81 to 2.0 ; weight 1 lb. 5 ozs. to 1lb. 12 ozs.
In adults the bills vary from dull leaden to light greyish blue, the nail and extreme tip being black ; the irides golden yellow; the legs and feet vary like the bill, and there is often an olivaceous tinge, especially on the tarsi; the joints have usually a dusky tinge; the webs vary from dusky to almost black and the claws from deep brown to black. As a rule, the colours of the bill, legs and feet are rather duller and duskier in the female than the male.
In young birds also these parts are duskier, and the irides are brown, brownish white, to almost white and brownish yellow.
The Plate, so far as the male is concerned, is very good, but the green on the tertiaries is a little too bright. Moreover in a really old fully-plumagcd male, there is none of that brown speckling at the base of the throat shown in the plate ; the back is a shade blacker, and the crest much longer. I have a male before me in which it is exactly two and a half inches long.
The female is much too light and rufous a brown ; she should be a darker brown, (though rufous brown is at times mingled with this) on the breast and interscapulary region ; a much darker brown on the mantle, and a very much darker brown, almost a blackish brown, on the head. No doubt immature birds are lighter coloured, but I have never yet met with one in India altogether so light and rufescent as the plate.
There is some difficulty in discriminating the young and females of the white-eye, scaup and tufted pochard.
In the old females, the white-eye has the chin white and the irides white, while those of the other two species have no white chin and yellow irides. The scaup again has no crest and a broad white band margining the upper mandible, while the tufted pochard has no white on the face, and a distinct, though short, crest of narrow recurved feathers. But in the younger birds all these distinctions do not always hold good. Young scaup often have a white chin, and very little, a mere speckling, of white at the base of the upper mandible ; and the young tufted ducks at times have the irides nearly white or brownish white, and have white about the face.
The youngest specimens, however, of the tufted pochard that i have seen, have always exhibited the crest which characterizes the species, short no doubt, but of the peculiar linear feathers, so greatly developed in the old adult males ; and this is the best practical diagnosis of doubtful birds of this species, though there are other differences in shape and colour of bills, &c.
The White-eye and Scaup can be separated, I believe (but am not positive) at any age, by the colour of the irides, and certainly by the shape of the bills, which, age for age and sex for sex, are longer and broader in the Scaup, and less spatulate, i.e., more of the same breadth throughout and less compressed or pinched in towards the base, than those of the White-eye,
True Pochards of the same types as some of those above dealt with occur throughout the world. The Canvas-back from North America I have already noticed, and there are other species from South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
On account of its bright yellow iris, this species is often called " The Golden- Eye or " The Indian Golden-Eye but the true Golden-Eye, (the species to be next dealt with), belongs to a quite distinct genus, and this name, commonly as it is applied out here, should be dropped in favour of the old-established English name, " The Tufted Pochard." No doubt in Europe they call it the " The Tufted Duck," but it is a true Pochard, and I have therefore modified the name accordingly.
This species has not been recorded from Kashmir (though I should expect it to occur there). I have never myself met with it in, or received it from any part of, these mountains. Hodgson only got it in the Nepal Terai* Scully never saw it in the hill poi tion of Nepal But Mandelli obtained several specimens in the interior of Native Sikhim in the cour&e of ten years' collecting, Mr. Albert Theobald, who has collected for years, in the southernmost districts of the Madras Presidency, writes :—
" I have only seen this duck in the northern part of Coimbatore and in the Mysore country; they come in at the latter end of November and leave about April or May. They are not very common and keep in small flocks of four to six.
" It prefers large open tanks or lakes, keeping to the middle. I am not certain if they resort to the fields at nights, as I have not shot them in such localities.
" The best way to shoot them is to have a small punt or canvas canoe disguised with green boughs tied to the prow, and gently propelled by paddling, or by a man swimming behind with his hands on the stern of the boat."
No. 376.—CEdemia cristata (L.) of Dresser's notes on Severtzoffs Fauna of Turkestan, Ibis, 1876, p. 420, can only be meant for this species, though Linne (and L. only stands for the great Swedish Naturalist) never called any duck cristata, and the present species can, in no possible manner, be classed as a Scotter.