Thursday, 3 April 2008

Musk duck love

Armed with camera and binoculars, I went out hunting grebes. Australasian or hoary-headed or even great crested grebes. I didn't care which species. I just wanted a high-quality photo of something other than a fluffy white arse or circle of ripples where a bird had been only half a second before.

I didn't see any.

Not one.

But I did see a musk duck (Biziura lobata).

Here's a photo I posted a while ago of a male performing his 'plonk display'. During this display, a male flicks up big sprays of water with his feet. The sprays are accompanied by a loud plonking noise, which can be heard some distance away. When a bunch of males display together, it's an impressive sight.

Let me state the obvious: musk ducks are remarkable birds.

Like many ducks, they exhibit sexual dimorphism. But it doesn't work in the usual way. Males and females sport identical plumage; both are a mottled grey- brown. Instead, males differ in possessing a leathery pendant that dangles from the mandible. The breadth of the pendant is correlated with the duck's weight, so it's a handy indicator to competing males and choosy females.

And males are big. Some are up to 70 cm long and 3.5 kg in weight — considerably larger than females.

Males often gather to display together in a lek. Although lekking behavior is common in other groups of birds, it is rare in ducks. If the competition for females gets too tough, a male will often submerge and attack rivals from below the surface. Now, tell me you don't want to see that.

Musk ducks are relatively common in SE and SW Australia. They aren't restricted to freshwater but also occur in estuaries and bays. If they're around, you'll know about it. The sound of the plonk display travels for hundreds of metres. And there's always the Jaws theme ...

1 comment:


The males of Homo sapiens have a similar display called "honk display". You can hear it when one of them drives in his car by a female whose attention he is trying to attract.