Several species of ducks fly to escape the icy wastes of Central Asia and Siberia to winter in the Indian subcontinent, where they get some much needed R and R. A visit to any respectable waterbody can be extremely rewarding — and you don’t have to get up too early either as the ducks doze well into the late morning. A squadron of such ducks arriving at a water-body is a never-to-be-forgotten experience — suddenly, they zoom overhead with the whine of supersonic jets, pinpricks in the sky, before side-slipping alarmingly and almost tumbling as they lose height and drop on to the water, legs extended, tails waggling. Or when they take off en masse panicked by a bandit marsh harrier perhaps…
There are generally two main types of ducks: the “dabblers” or dipping ducks and the “divers”. The former find their food just under the surface of the water, and one hilarious technique is to upend in the water, tail sticking out and rotate slowly while paddling. The divers are heavy-boned ducks that dive deep and we’ll meet them — along with some “half-migrants” and residents — in a following column. Given here are thumbnail biometrics of some of the commoner species of dabblers that you are likely to encounter. These descriptions pertain to the drakes — the females are usually handsomely mottled gold and brown versions of the males.
Pintail: A debonair, dapper bright-eyed duck, with a chocolate head, bordered on either side with a white band. The chest is white, the upper body a lovely filigreed silver grey. Two pin feathers stick out of its tail — easily visible in flight. Sits upright in the water and is adept in almost vertical take-offs.
Shoveller: Low floating, beady eyed with a head that can turn from emerald green to royal purple. Its bill looks like the upper portion of a patent leather slipper and it cleaves the water with it, filtering in minute food particles. Bright orange feet, a blazing white chest, flame blue on wings and a mostly chestnut body complete the ensemble. Fond of upending and rotating in the water, paddling webs in the air — but won’t approve of unmannerly laughter.
Common Teal: Smaller than the average duck, it looks all dressed for a costume party. It wears a snazzy green mask over an orange-brown head and its plumage is dappled grey-brown. The shiny plumage (speculum) on the wings is black, green and mushroom coloured. A little shy, if not furtive, it flies fast.
Gargeny or Blue-winged Teal: You can’t miss this guy’s shaggy grandfather-white eyebrows! The head is mottled and filigreed pinkish-brown, the wings and shoulders have beautiful flame blue tinges. One of the earliest arrivals, they get here by August.
Gadwall: Dark brown, with a white flag on its stern, black bill and black tail tip. Not so glamorous, but has beautiful emerald green and chestnut on the wings visible when it “stands up” in the water and flaps them.
Wigeon: Another dandy in silver grey, with a condensed milk dollop on the top of a chestnut head and a salmon-pink chest. Looks a bit hunched in the water, as if trying hard to escape attention.
Mallard: The “typical” duck, with a big shiny emerald green head and a grey body filigreed in black. The breast is chestnut, bordered with white, the feet day-glow orange and a black kiss curl on its bottom — the tail — is the piece de resistance!
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher
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