The diving ducks are relatively heavy-boned and seek their meals at the bottom of ponds and water bodies (though some do dabble also!), looking for molluscs, crustaceans, and the roots and shoots of aquatic plants. They tend to have a certain basilisk-like look and lack the cheery bright-eyed attitude of the dabblers. Amongst the most familiar: (The descriptions are of the drakes, the duckies are drabber and nondescript, but shoulder greater responsibilities.)
Red-Crested Pochard: Dandy prince amongst the pochards, this fellow has a shiny henna-coloured head and wears a formal black bandhgala. His flanks are white, the upper parts pale brown, with white shoulder patches: the lower part of the plumage is black and he flashes white wing mirrors when he flies. Knockout valentine-pink bill completes the ensemble. Allegedly, RCPs (as they are laconically called by birders) are fussy about the purity of water and so serve as indicators of water pollution. Around Delhi, the Yamuna Diversity Park appears to have become a favourite winter resort.
Common Pochard: A (drably) dressed down version of the above, in ginger (head), gunmetal, black and ashy white; its bill is black and bluish-grey. Floats low and looks a big hungover.
Tufted Pochard: A personal favourite, especially when it raises its shendi comically and irritably and glares at you out of gold-ringed eyes. Simply clad in black and white (khadi?), the “tuft” or shendi (called the occipital crest) lies along the back of its head and is raised when the bird gets excited. A true deep-water diver, it floats in the middle of lakes and reservoirs and can disappear beneath the water for considerable periods. On land, like other divers, it walks like Charlie Chaplin because its legs are set so far back.
White-eyed Pochard: Little smaller than regulation duck-size, a dark gingery-brown duck with a gimlet golden or white-ringed eye. Not completely firangi — it does breed in Kashmir too while others fly in from regions further north.
The following are amongst our residents and/or “half-migrants” and are dabblers.
Brahiminy or Ruddy Shelduck: Almost as large as a goose and unmistakable in its rich saffron plumage and pale caramel head, bordered by a faint black collar. Has stunning black, white and bottle-green wings. The lady is dressed like the gentleman and the pairs are known for their fidelity. Again, not entirely NRI — they breed in Ladakh, Nepal and Tibet and spend the winter over the subcontinent.
Spotbilled Duck: Dappled in light and dark brown, heavy kajal-like make-up around the eyes, yellow-tipped black bill with orange at its base, bright green wing bar in flight and day-glo orange legs comprise its major biometrics. Common in water bodies, this dabbler keeps a relatively low profile in winter being outnumbered by the huge wintering flocks of NRIs.
Cotton Teal: A very small duck, greeny-black (head and back) and white, with a goose-like bill and goes by the ridiculous nickname of “Quacky Duck”! A tree-nester, it is familiar in village ponds across the country.
Lesser-Whistling Teal: These cheery rufous brown ducks are best known for their high-pitched musical whistling, usually uttered in flight as they circle and inspect a prospective landing site. Also a tree-nester.
Comb Duck or Nakta: A big duck with an ink-spattered white face and neck, and glossy purple-green upper plumage, white below. Males balance what I like to think is an upside down ink bottle at the base of their bills (the “comb”) — a swollen knob actually, which the ladies approve of.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher
Email author: email@example.com