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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Birdwatch: Ruddy Shellduck, a symbol of unrequited love

Legend has it that two people fell in love but the Gods did not approve their alliance and transformed them into Ruddy Shelducks and placed them on opposite shores of a river, with a curse that they could never meet.

Chandigarh |
Updated: December 23, 2021 12:53:14 pm
They have orange-brown body plumage with a paler head, while the tail and the flight feathers in the wings are black, contrasting with the white wing-coverts.

Written by Lalit Mohan Bansal

The Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), known in India as the Brahminy Duck, is a winter visitor to the Chandigarh region. They are the first to arrive and can be seen on Sukhna Lake, Mote Majra, Siswan and other water bodies around the Tricity.

They have orange-brown body plumage with a paler head, while the tail and the flight feathers in the wings are black, contrasting with the white wing-coverts. These shelducks are fairly large birds, the males being larger than the females. While a male measures 60 to 70 cm in length and weighs 1,200 to 1,600 grams, the female weighs 900 to 1,500 grams. They have a wingspan of 120 to 145 cm.

In the breeding season, the males acquire a black ring at the base of the neck while the females get a white patch on the face. The Ruddy Shelducks inhabit large wetlands, lakes, rivers with mudflats and shingle banks. They feed on roots, shoots, buds, grasses, leaves, seeds and stems.

Ruddy Shelducks are no sitting ducks; they scale the mighty Himalayas when flying to India from the north attaining heights of 6,800 metres, according to a study published in the journal of avian biology.

Only bar-headed geese fly higher than them. Their Hindi name Surkhaab, is immortalised in the idiom ‘surkhaab kay per’, and this is the reason why!

Ruddy Shellducks (Chakwa – Chakwi) also find a mention in Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a symbol of marital fidelity. There are many Punjabi folk tales about these birds. Legend has it that two people fell in love but the Gods did not approve their alliance and transformed them into Ruddy Shelducks and placed them on opposite shores of a river, with a curse that they could never meet.

After being separated, the male (Chakwa) calls out to the female (Chakwi) in its typically mournful call “aaaawan”, meaning “may I come over?” But the female, scared of the Gods, replies in an equally mournful voice “na aaaween” meaning “don’t come over”. So they spend the rest of their lives mournfully calling out to each other from opposite banks of the river.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has listed them as of “least concern”.

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