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Tufted Duck: Meet the impish bird with the knowing look

Tufted Ducks start arriving in India from late October and go back to their breeding grounds by the end of March. They come from a very wide arc, ranging from north Palearctic Europe to the Russian city of Yakutsk on River Lena in the east.

Chandigarh |
January 19, 2022 1:49:55 pm
Being deep-water ducks, they usually don’t have the comfort of resting on dry land for preening, so it is quite a sight seeing them roll sideways on the water for hard-to-reach feathers. (Express Photo)

Written by Gajinder Bains

As a novice school-going birdwatcher under the tutelage of Bro. PJ Tynan, the Principal of St. John’s School in the ’70s, the tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) emerged as one of my favourites for reasons that I understood later. The first was that it was one of the easiest to identify, particularly the female of the species which in many avian species pose challenges even to the most experienced birders. The other was the comical, silent knowing look of the impish bird, smug in the confidence that its mischief would not be discovered! Later, I came to know that the males are quite reticent in their winter habitat.

They were almost always found in the deeper waters of the Sukhna Lake and are often seen at its reservoir end. This is due to their feeding behaviour of diving for their diet of molluscs and aquatic plants, different from the surface skimming or “up-ending” of their other duck companions. That’s how nature provides for different feeding habits of species to coexist in the same habitat without competition or over-exploitation.

Tufted Ducks start arriving in India from late October and go back to their breeding grounds by the end of March. They come from a very wide arc, ranging from north Palearctic Europe to the continuous permafrost Russian city of Yakutsk on River Lena in the east.

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Distinguished by their comical golden-yellow eyes and (choti) tufts on their heads from other ducks, the males are black with white flanks and belly which make the neck appear distinct to give it the scientific name fuligula – sooty-throat. The loquacious female is dark brown.

Being deep-water ducks, they usually don’t have the comfort of resting on dry land for preening, so it is quite a sight seeing them roll sideways on the water for hard-to-reach feathers.

Tufted Ducks are abundant and in the “least concern” category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Man’s interference with nature in quarrying and deepening water bodies has, in fact, opened up new habitat for the Tufted Duck.

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