Dendrocygna javanica, Horsfieldi
Vernacular Names.—[Saral, Shareil, Lower Bengali Soreil, Harrili-hans, Eastern Bengal; Silli, Silhahi (Hindustani); Chihee, Etawah; Ade, Adla (Mahrathi); Yerra Chilluwa, (Telugu); Yerrundi (Malayalum), Quilon, Travan core; Sisalee, Sessilli (Burmese), Pegu, Tenasserim; Tingi, Munipur; ]
EXCEPT the north-western portions of Rajputana and the Punjab, there is scarcely any suitable locality within the limits of the Empire, including Burma Ceylon, the Andamans, and Nicobars, in which the Whistling Teal does not occur, either as a permanent resident or a seasonal visitant. In many parts of the country it is almost entirely the latter. Thus in Sind it is very rarely seen, except from the end of April to October. In the Deccan its occurrence is nearly confined to the rainy and cold seasons; in the drier portions of the North-western Provinces it is ten times as numerous in the rains as it is between January and the commencement of the latter.
Again Mr. Cripps says:—"In the Faridpur District this species is a permanent resident, but in Dacca it is seen only during the rainy season in pairs and small parties. In the cold season large flocks of these birds are met with in the tract of swampy country which forms the central southern portion of the district of Sylhet; in some of these swamps, I have come across flocks numbering thousands, and although I have seen them in Faridpur in winter, when they go about in flocks of twenty and thirty, my opinion is that the greater number of the birds which scatter over Eastern Bengal during the monsoon, retire to Sylhet in the cold weather."
I do not think it occurs, except perhaps as a straggler, in the Himalayas. It has not been recorded from Kashmir nor from Kullu, nor have I met with it in any part of the Himalayas west of Nepal. Hodgson includes it In his " List of the Birds of Nepal," and he seems to have obtained one specimen from the Residency pond (perhaps one introduced there), but the rest of his specimens came from the Terai, and Scully did not observe it in Nepal.
It is not, I think, a hill bird, and nowhere, I believe, ascends the hills to any considerable elevation. Fairbank observed it at Mahableshwar, but it has not been noticed at Abu or Ooty, or on the Pulneys.
Outside our limits it occurs in Independent Burma and Siam, throughout the Malay Peninsula, in Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. A specimen, said to differ only from this species in the length of the tarsus, is in the British Museum, brought by Clapperton and Denham, from Lake Tchad in Central Africa, but I am not prepared, without further information, to accept this latter as a habitat of the present species.
The Whistling Teal is essentially a tree Duck; it must have trees as well as water, and hence its entire absence from some pieces of water, in treeless parts of Rajputana for instance, where other species of Ducks abound during the cold season. Generally it is more common in well-wooded than in comparatively bare, open country. Yet it prefers level or fairly level tracts to very broken hilly country, and again, though in some places, e.g., at Tavoy, it may be met with in rivers in enormous flocks, it, as a rule, prefers moderate-sized lakes and ponds to rivers.
Owing to these preferences, there are many tracts, as for instance, portions of the Deccan, where it is extremely rare. In the Southern Konkan it is almost unknown. Mr. Vidal tells me that he has only once seen it in the Ratnagiri District, and that was in February on the Washishti River near Chiplun.
I have already alluded to its migratory habits. I may add that it seems to be altogether a permanent resident only in well-watered, well-wooded, and well-drained districts ; in the drier districts the majority are only monsoon visitants ; in the more swampy tracts the majority come only for the dry season. But although the majority gad about like fashionable folks, spending one season here and the other there, a few seem to be everywhere (except in the western portions of the range of the species), truly permanent residents. Of course this must depend upon the supply of food available, but we know too little as yet of the details of such matters to be able to trace this partial migration to its exact causes.
It is about weedy tanks and swamps that one mostly meets with the Whistling Teal, in pairs during the breeding season, but in flocks of from twenty to two thousand (according to the size of .the swamp or broad which they inhabit), during the cold season and spring. Like the Cotton Teal and both species are commonly seen in the same tanks they are very tame and familiar birds, frequenting village ponds, and living on the trees surrounding such, even on trees growing inside the enclosures of cottages. They are rather dull birds, slow on the wing and easily shot, and they have a habit of circling round and round the gunner, when one of their number has been shot, that often proves fatal to the greater portion of the flock, when it unfortunately falls under the tender mercies of " butchers." When absolutely required for food, a pair or so may be shot, but they are indifferent eating, and fly so poorly that they really afford no sport. Indeed in many places they are so tame that they sit unconcernedly on some overhanging branch looking down at the gunner, who has to throw stones at them, before they will give him a chance of a flying shot.
They swim and dive extremely well. Indeed a winged bird in a good large pond, full of holes, into which the pursuers plump without warning, will afford admirable exercise and amusement to a dozen beaters while you smoke a sympathetic cigar on the bank in the cool shade of some huge peepul. They are not very often seen, I think, on land, but they walk far better than the Cotton Teal. I have seen them feeding like Geese on short fine grass, and Mr. Cripps says :—" This species is often seen on freshly-ploughed paddy fields, evidently feeding on the grains of paddy that have been left above ground after sowing."
Certainly when not on the wing they are more commonly either feeding in the water or resting on trees. There are differences in their habits, however, according to season and locality. During the breeding season they spend much more of their time in trees, at any rate where they breed on these, than at other times, the female, either sitting on the eggs or at the edge of the nest on the alert against crows and other robbers, and the male on some neighbouring branch with one eye on the water and the other on his mate, whom he is always ready to assist against all, but human, assailants. I once saw a good large half wild village Cat spring down on a Duck, which was sitting on her nest, in a broad four-pronged fork of a mango-tree. The Duck did not whistle in the usual manner; she positively screamed; in a second, the Drake dashed .at the Cat, and to my surprise down came a Black Crow (C. macrorhynchus), not as any one would have thought to steal the eggs during the confusion, but to assail the Cat with claws and beak as if his own homestead had been attacked. In less, time than it takes to describe, the Cat was squalling in her turn, and fled up one of the branches pursued closely by the Drake and Crow, who were immediately joined by another Crow, and the three made it so hot for pussy that she sprung down to the ground, where my Dogs, aroused by the uproar above, (the noise those two Crows made was astounding) were awaiting her, and before I could interfere, and before she quite recovered the jump of some 35 or 40 feet, killed her outright. But the strangest part of the business was, that the villagers assured me that this nest was the Crow's own nest, and that they lent it every year after their young had flown to the Whistling Teal. I should have verified this the next spring, but left the Mynpooree District and never again had the chance of revisiting the spot.
Where the Whistling Teal lives in moderate-sized tanks, and where it is tame and fearless, it feeds, I believe, almost exclusively in the water and during the day, chiefly in the fore and afternoons, resting in trees during the middle of the day and roosting on these at night. I have continually seen them going up to roost about sunset, alighting first on the outside twigs of some large branch, and presently sidling up well inside the tree and nearer to the trunk. But where they are wilder, and where they frequent rivers, they feed at night like other Ducks, and may be seen about sunset leaving the river in large flocks to feed in the neighbouring paddy fields and swamps.
They are chiefly, I think, vegetarians, and devour rice especially, wild and cultivated, most greedily, but they also feed on all kinds of seeds, rushes and other water plants, and on the herbage, bulbs and corms of these and on grass, and at times, small shells, worms and a variety of insects are found in their stomachs. Once I shot one that disgorged, as it fell, a tiny silvery fish about two inches in length. But, as a rule, (and I have dissected many), they feed principally, I believe, on vegetable substances, and I am therefore at a loss to account for the peculiar, faint, half-muddy, half-fishy taste, that their flesh always seems to have, and which, to me, makes them unpalatable even when disguised with sauces in a stew.
Their call is a double hissing whistled note, uttered always when they are alarmed, or when they are about to fly, and often repeated during flight, but more seldom heard when they are at rest and at their ease, either on the water or on trees. Only when the female is sitting inside a hole where the male cannot see her, the pair keep up a pretty continuous conversation.
Of few species does the nidification vary so much according to local circumstances as that of our present bird.
In one place it lays almost exclusively in stick nests, (of its own building, or else old ones of Crows, Cormorants or Paddy Birds slightly furbished up), fairly high up on large trees ; in another in hollows between the huge branches of ancient trees, such as a Wood Owl would use, or deep in holes in the trunks of these, such as a Nukhta would select. In other places it nests on low palms, small thorny bushes, or dense clumps of bulrush and reeds, or again on the ground in thick grass or on the water on floating patches of tangled water weeds.
The laying season also varies in most places from the middle of June until quite the middle of October, but in Northern Ceylon and other southern localities where the N. E. Monsoon rains are heavy, it breeds after the close of these, viz., from December or January to March.
I myself have only seen its nests in the Etawah District, in Mynpooree, Cawnpore, Muttra, Allyghur, and Meerut.
I have found its eggs in two situations, in hollows in trees, or between the larger branches of these, either unlined or slightly lined with grass and feathers, or in old Crow's and Kite's nests, which it lines in a similar fashion. In all cases the trees in or on which I have found it nesting have been in the immediate proximity of water. This, however, is not at all the rule elsewhere.
With us it lays in July and August, and a few eggs may be found even during the first-half of September, but the majority have, I think, hatched off by the first of that month. Twelve is the maximum number of eggs that I have seen in any nest, and ten or eleven are, I think, the usual complement.
Captain G. F. L. Marshall remarks that " this species builds in trees a nest of sticks, and lays about seven to ten eggs.
" A nest, found on the 25th of July near Bolundshahr, contained only one egg, on which both the parent birds were sitting. It was a tolerably compact structure of twigs in a Keekur tree at the edge of a jhil about eight feet from the road ; it was at the side of a metalled road near a large town. I shot the male, but missed the female with the left barrel. When I returned next day, there was a pair of birds on the nest again, so that the female had apparently provided herself with a fresh mate in that short interval. In another case the nest was swarming with ants and maggots."
Mr. A. Anderson says:—"Jerdon could never have found a full clutch of the eggs of the Whistling Teal, or he would not have limited the number to " six or eight" (birds of India, Vol. Ill, p. 790). Ordinarily this Duck lays fully a dozen eggs ; but I am indebted to my friend, Mr. Fynes-Clinton, for two clutches of twelve and fourteen respectively, which he took from the same nest ; whether these were laid by one or two birds must of course remain an open question.
"On the 29th June 1872, Mr. Clinton flushed a bird from the top of a low Date Palm, (Phoenix dactylifera), and found the first-mentioned lot (twelve) ; on the 13th July he happened to visit the same locality, and to his surprise found the second clutch in exactly the same situation ; the Duck was on her eggs. Now the dates are so coincident that, supposing these twenty-six eggs to be the produce of two different females, the second one must have laid her first egg the very day after the removal of the first batch.
"As to situation, the choice may be mentioned in the following order:—
(1st).—Depression at the fork of the lower branches of large limbed trees ;
(2nd).—Old nests, particularly those belonging to Crows, Herons, &c.; and
(3rd).—Thorny scrub or grass on the edge of swamps,"
Capt Butler writes from Deesa: "On the 24th of August 1876, I found a nest of this species containing ten eggs, slightly incubated ; it was placed in a tussock of grass growing out of a dead stick fence that had become submerged from the height of the water. It was well concealed, and consisted of a quantity of dry grass and sedge trodden down into a good thick pad. The old bird sat close, and when I looked into the tussock of grass, flapped off the nest into the water like a wounded bird, swam 5 or 6 yards, and then dived. In about five minutes both birds (and ?) returned on the wing, and after flying uneasily round and round in circles close to me for a few seconds, settled in some short grass on the bank about 10 yards from me, and tried to draw me away from the nest by cackling and running, or rather waddling through the grass as if wounded. A day or two latter, I found several young broods about a week old, and in two instances amalgamated broods numbering about twenty-two young birds and two old Ducks."
Again writing from Sind he says:—
" Mr. Doig took a nest containing ten fresh eggs in the Eastern Nara, Sind, on the 22nd June 1878, and later on, during the last week of July, in another part of the district where the water had risen later, he and I found a few more nests containing eight to ten fresh eggs. At that season of the year large dhunds are filled with water by the overflow of the Indus, and large tracts of thickly wooded country, which are dry in the hot weather, become converted into huge lakes, dotted all over with trees, and patches of partly submerged tamarisk jungle. Many of these trees are overgrown with a dense green creeper, and on these trees, in a little arbour in the middle of the creeper, at heights varying from 3 to 8 feet above the surface of the water, we invariably found the nests. The birds were very plentiful, and of course all in pairs, and the nests were not difficult to discover as the old birds were quite tame, and as a rule were sitting on the tree, one generally on the nest, the other outside keeping guard. The nest consisted of a moderate-sized pad of green twigs, plucked from the creeper in which it was built, which, becoming moist from the bird's feet, usually caused the eggs to become more or less marked with green stains,"
Mr. Doig himself notes that " the Whistling Teal breeds in great numbers on the Nara, (Hyderabad, Sind,) earlier in some portions than in others. At one place, on the 23rd of June, I found a nest containing 10 fresh eggs. The nest was simply composed of leaves of the large bulrush trodden down, so as to make a platform, and was on the top of a clump of these bulrushes at about 10 feet from the ground, On 24th June I found another nest similarly situated, but containing nothing but egg shells the chicks had felt the nest. At another place, about 25 miles further north, where the birds were very numerous, they were building their nests in July, and did not begin to lay till towards the end of July and beginning of August. Here in nearly every instance the nest was in a tamarisk bush which had been covered over with a small green creeper, the eggs being laid on a mass of the creeper inside the bush, and having generally a lot of the creeper forming an arch over head."
Mr. Brooks tells me that " on one occasion" he " took a nest of this species out of a broken tree stump about four feet high, which was hollow in the centre. The nest was about an arm's length down in the stump, and the old bird allowed herself to be lifted off the eggs when she was set free."
Mr J. Davidson, C.S., writes : "This was a rare Duck, and only met with in the cold weather in Sholapur and other parts of the Deccan. In Mysore it was also rare, though pairs evidently going to breed were scattered among the weedy tanks. In the Panch Mahals they were nearly as common in the rains and cold weather, (I did not spend a hot weather there) as the Cotton Teal, and bred in September and October. All the nests I found myself were in tufts of grass which formed islands in the middle of weedy tanks; one clutch of eggs was, however, brought to me, said to have been taken from a stick nest built in a bush, 6 or 7 feet high, standing in water."
Mr. J. R. Cripps says: " This species breeds to my knowledge in Faridpur, Dacca, and Sylhet on trees in The vicinity of water, as well as in ' sun grass fields; when in these latter the nest is placed on the ground. The nest when built on trees is of twigs, with a slight lining of grass, but when on the ground, it is made exclusively of ' Sun' grass. July and August are the principal months for their laying. I have never found more than 9 eggs in any nest ; the nest when on trees is never very high up, 20 feet from the ground being the maximum according to my experience."
In Pegu, Mr. Eugene Oates records that he has "found nests from the 6th July to the 29th August, twice with six and once with seven eggs. The nest is apparently always placed on thick matted canebrakes in paddy fields or on the ground in thick grass. I have never seen any indications of nests on trees. In all the three nests I have found, the above number of eggs was the full complement, for the female in each instance, on dissection, contained no mature eggs."
Writing from Singapore Davison says :—
" The Whistling Teal breeds freely on an island in the big pond in the public gardens here. This island is almost entirely covered and overshadowed by a huge fig tree, on which I should have expected the birds to nest; but Mr. Merton, the Superintendent, assures me that he has repeatedly seen their nests, and that these are here invariably on the ground and close to the water's edge. Of course on this island there is absolute protection from man and beast."
I have dwelt already, I fear some will think, at too great length on the nesting habits of this species ; but I must still add a most curious fact recorded by Mr. H. Kemp. Writing from the Futtehpur District on the 13th July, he says : " Last evening I saw a pair of Whistling Teal settle high up on a large peepul tree. One went into a hollow and the other sat outside near its mouth. This other one I shot ; it proved to be the male. After a moment's pause the female flew out and made away to a sheet of water about 300 yards distant. While I was walking towards her, a man, close over whom the bird flew, in telling me where it had settled, added that it had an egg in its claw. I disbelieved this and took no notice of it. but when I shot the bird, my servant in bringing it out of the water found an egg on a narrow ridge where the bird was standing when shot. There was no nest, nor had the ground any signs of having been sat upon.
" I then sent a man up the peepul tree and he found one more egg of the same kind in the hollow out of which the bird flew. There was no prepared nest in the hollow, but only decayed and crumbled chips."
Strange as this may seem, it is confirmed by the fact that the Duck similarly transports the young, to the water, in her claws. I have heard of their being seen flying down to the water with ducklings on their backs, but I have twice seen them carrying these in their claws. On one of these occasions, between 8 and 9 A.M., I saw a Duck carry down her whole brood of seven, one at a time, from a hole in a huge mango to the water, she passing each time within three yards of my face as I sat at the water's edge. The first time the Drake came down with her, and then he remained with the ducklings, whilst she went backwards and forwards fetching the rest Natives say that when the weather is stormy the old birds carry the young back to the nest, and that may be so, but on this particular occasion, I returned at sunset and saw both old birds and the brood swimming about; and, though I waited till it was quite dark, saw nothing of their returning to the tree. Next morning I was there before daylight, but as soon as it was light, I made out the party. I had the place watched, and am satisfied that that brood never returned to the nest. But then the weather, though there was plenty of rain, was not stormy or windy, and I must leave it to future observers to determine whether they ever carry their young on their backs, or in their bills, and whether, once they have launched their young, they ever carry them again back to the nest's dry dock.
The eggs of this species are usually very broad ovals, often slightly compressed towards one end. In texture they differ much from those of the Black-backed Goose and Goose Teal already described. They lack the exquisite smoothness and satiny feel of these latter, and instead of the delicate jvory white, they are, when fresh, nearly pure white becoming no doubt yellowish or brownish, and sullied, as incubation proceeds. Here and there one may exhibit a slight gloss, but as a rule, this is almost entirely wanting.
In length the eggs vary from 1.72 to 2.0, and in breadth from 1.4 to 1.6; but the average of forty-four is 1.86 nearly by 1.49.
THE BIRDS vary a good deal according to age, but not apparently according to sex, though the head of the male is rather larger and the plumage on it fuller. Speaking merely from memory, I should have said that the males were larger, but a comparison of a large series of measurements of both sexes in the flesh shows that this is not the case.
Length, 16.0 to 17.45 ; expanse, 27.25 to 30.3 ; wing, 7.0 to 8.04; tail from vent, 2.3 to 3.02; tarsus, 1.6 to 1.92 ; bill from gape, 1.7 to 2.o6; weight, 1 lb. to 1 lb. 4 ozs.
The irides are deep brown ; the eyelids bright yellow to pale golden; the legs and feet generally dark, at times somewhat pale, plumbeous blue, often dusky in patches and on the webs, and claws blackish ; bill plumbeous to pale dull blue at the base, shading to black at the tip, the bill in some having a greater extent of plumbeous, in others of black ; the membrane between the rami of the lower mandible is generally pinkish,
THE PLATE only tolerably represents the species, and is everywhere too brightly coloured and too orange. In reality the wing-coverts are a deep maroon ; the edgings to the feathers of the back dingy fulvous chestnut; and the lower breast and abdomen a rather light but dull chestnut. The legs of the standing bird are unfortunately wrongly drawn. Both legs are on the off side, and the tibial portion of the leg, which when the bird is thus standing, shows out very conspicuously, on the near side, is ignored. There should be more plumbeous at the base of the bilk.