Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Dapper ducks

As a child in London, I liked going to Victoria Park to look at the ducks. I wasn't so keen on feeding them but I enjoyed identifying the different species*. And there were many. Although, now I think about it, there might have only been mallard and tufted ducks but in my memory there were also widgeon and pochard and teal. Oh wait. I'm probably confusing it with the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge.


There's something about ducks. They always look as if they've just been dry-cleaned or polished and left out in the sun to dry. Even though they spend their days with their heads in muddy water and their bums in the air, they remain gleaming.

Despite their laconic charm, Australian ducks are every bit as glossy and neat as their northern counterparts. None more than wood ducks (Chenonetta jubata), which are not only glossy and neat but dapper as well.

Wood ducks are also called maned ducks because the male sports a luxurious growth of long feathers on the nape of his neck. These birds are grazers, nipping at grass and other low vegetation with their small—but perfectly formed—beaks. They are more reticent toward humans than other ducks. Sensibly cautious. But this stand-offish behaviour is part of the wood duck package.

I photographed this group on the banks of the Maribyrnong River in Essendon. They were only pretending to be nonchalant.

*This sort of thing starts young, you know.


Sherryl said...

Oh.... wood ducks. I didn't know we had them in Australia. I've just workshopped a picture book by someone in the US about wood ducks (which I won't go into here but it's good).
Wood ducks are a family source of amusement here for us. Please describe their quacking sound to resolve an argument.

Snail said...

Our wood ducks aren't the same as the North American wood ducks. (Bloody common names!) Carolina wood ducks are particularly handsome birds. They look like hand-coloured lino cuts.

According to one of my books on wildfowl the mournful 'new' of the female is most characteristic, this is long and drawn out. The male's call is much shorter and higher pitched. I'm not sure that helps.

Anonymous said...

I wish the maned geese common name could be preserved.
They are effing geese.
Because geese are grazing ducks for gawwsake.
Anas for that anser you're preparing…


Anonymous said...

A whinging cat is a good description of their call, by the way.


Snail said...

Anas for that anser you're preparing

That ... was ... dreadful.

If I get enthusiastic I'll rustle up a phylogeny of the group tomorrow. (I presume someone's done one.) Be interesting to see what groups where.

Snail said...

I don't think I've heard them call. Or if I have, I haven't paid attention. Probably thought it was a whinging cat.

I once saw a drake bullying joggers as they ran past his family. He rushed at them, mouth open and hissed. And for some reason every jogger shrieked and scurried out of the way.

I refused to be intimidated by this pint-sized creature, so when he rushed at me, I glared at him.

They can sidle, you know. Sidle and do the avian equivalent of nonchalant whistling. If he could have kicked gravel, I'm sure he would have.

tapperboy said...

I've added this comment so it makes 7 comments this item has. That and just to share I've always thought their beaks are just a little bit too small for the rest of their body. Maybe that's why they work hard to look dapper? They're drawing attention away by pretending they're ducks with the best of everything when really they're totally insecure about the size of their ahem, beaks ;)

anthea said...

As well as the 'Waoow' call, the pairs give a rapid clucking call, almost a cackle, early in the nesting season when they are hunting for nest-hollows in trees. They often perch on chimneys to do this, but I have never heard of them getting into one in search of a nest. I have had overseas visitors greatly astonished to see them perch in trees.

Pam in Tucson said...

They're beautiful! I like their colouring - esp. the lovely smooth brown head. Completely different from the colourful (American) Wood Duck I photographed in British Columbia last June. You grew up in the UK? We visited Slimbridge several times when I was in boarding school in Gloucestershire (early 1950's). Peter Scott was one of my heroes. A favourite book was "The Snow Goose", which he illustrated.

Snail said...

Anthea, when you mentioned the ducks perching on chimneys I started to wonder what they'd sound like waddling across a tin roof! After all, sparrows are loud enough ... Now I'll keep my eyes peeled on chimneys as well as trees.

Pam, they're even more handsome close up because what look like plain grey feathers on the body resolve into a tracery of black on white.

I only managed to visit Slimbridge once but I was enthralled!

Anonymous said...

HI all,

Wood Ducks (Maned Geese) are the love of my life! I have raised several clutches while volunteeering through WIRES in NSW. They have the most amazing gentle and trusting nature. Their call sounds like "grouwwk", to the best of my use of letters!


Snail said...

They are gorgeous birds, Laura, and quite plucky little things too! I occasionally see them feeding right at the edge of busy roads. I wish they wouldn't --- if only for the sake of my heart!