This week as my wife and I were accessing difficult birding areas, I realised just how elusive and fearful of humans our fresh water birds are, and because of this how many non-birders would probably never laid eyes on some of the most beautiful and unique birds in our country of Australia. One such duck, the Pink Eared Duck (above) is a good example. These unusual ducks filter water for micro marine organisms and insects using their purpose built spatulated broad bill.
The Pink-eared Duck gets its name from a pink marking on the side of its head which is smaller or absent in females and absent in juveniles. They are mostly found in inland fresh water lakes throughout the Australian continent and is endemic to Australia. It is often found in large flocks of hundreds as we observed last weekend…
We were doubly blessed to see two juvenile Pink-eared Ducks for the first time ever. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Another rarely noticed fresh water duck which keeps its distance from humans (on the other side of the lake) is the Australasian Shoveler, also endemic and sports a very similar spatulated bill to our previous duck. The male is the more colourful and the female mainly brown. Note how it sweeps the water filtering it for its food, allowing the water to pass out. These are usually seen in small family groups.
One of the most popular freshwater ducks which are found in very large flocks in northern Australia and in some of our lakes and dams here in our state also, is the Plumed Whistling Duck. These are migratory as they return to the top end in the wet season of summer to breed.
You may remember seeing this video clip from a previous post, highlighting the cacophony of sound the whistling of thousands of ducks can produce.
The most elusive and human sensitive duck we have encountered and laboured to see is of course the Blue-billed Duck. The bill of the males during breeding glows bright blue. The male is distinctly different to female, the female being very similar to the female and juvenile of the Musk Duck, another fresh water elusive duck, and can be often difficult from a distance to tell them apart. Both the Blue-billed and Musc Ducks share very similar characteristics which I will share later.
The Musk Duck gets its name from the musk like scent the male liberates from a gland on its rump, it sports an unusual leathery lobe, and because of its greasy grey appearance is always difficult to photograph from a distance.
The Blue-billed and Musc Ducks are often found together in family groups well away from human approach. These birds spend almost all of their life on the water, they sleep afloat (see Blue-billed photo above). Both birds are identified by the fact they float low in the water, they have large splaying tails which the males use to attract females, they both have long involved courtship displays and are endemic to Australia. I managed to get some pics (from a distance) of a male doing a courtship display with his followers looking on as he kicked, turned, rolled onto his back and splayed his tail in the water.
The Australian Shelduck is a duck often only seen in family groups and not commonly seen on the coast being more of an inland bird to the southern part of Australia. We often only find the occasional bird at a wetland or lake but not in any number though their numbers are always increasing and are of little concern. In this case the white surrounding the eye is the female.
One duck most people here in NSW would not have seen because it only lives in the far north of Australia is the Radjah Shelduck which we have posted here in our far north travels earlier this year.
Two other birds only found in Far North Queensland that I also featured in previous posts are the Cotton Pygmy Goose and the Green Pygmy Goose which are extremely elusive, but are called geese rather than ducks, but are elusive, fresh water and seldom seen, so included them.
The Wandering Whistling Duck, which lives up to its name, as it is not endemic to Australia, but is found in south-east Asia and moves about in northern Australia, occasionally seen as a vagrant here. It is found in large flocks similar to its Plumed cousin.
The Hardhead is an Australia’s most common diving duck (endemic to Australia) similar to the Blue-billed Duck (also a diving duck) but more common. It is not as shy as the above but can be. The male is identified by the white eye and the female by the brown eye. These birds do not swim as low in the water as Blue-bills but are often found with them and look similar from the distance. The Blue-bills keep their tail low in the water unlike the Hardhead.
The other ducks such as Australian Wood Duck, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal and Pacific Black Duck are very common and not listed as elusive or rarely seen. The Grey Teal is apparently our most abundant duck. However, our most endangered and rare Duck is the Freckled Duck. Posted as vulnerable in our state, but is most endangered of all our ducks as it inhabits swamps and lakes inland, and when these dry up it moves towards the coast. It is only found in the southern part of our continent but not Tasmania.
All of the above ducks have had to photographed from a distance in a fresh water lake, swamp or lagoon, the Hardheads being the not so shy and more frequently seen. Many in the general public think ducks eat small fish and only small marine creatures, however, ducks are mostly omnivorous and feed on insects, seeds, grains, grass, water weeds, mollusks and what ever they can find. They do not normally feed on fish. As we saw above, those ducks that have been given purpose built bills such as the Pink-eared and Shoveler extract most of their nutrient directly from filtering the water, for crustaceans, molluscs, fresh water plankton and insects. Last weekend we saw many different species resting together in the middle of the lake all on friendly terms, as each kept its distance from the other.
There is safety in numbers and this was well demonstrated as we approached the lake. The first warnings alerted those who were sleeping and not facing our way. This caused some to give an alarm call and fly off, while others (the Pink-eared flock) took off and circled the lake several times, as they would for a raptor’s appearance and finally resettle in another lake nearby. Others would just swim further to the other side of the lake, keeping an eye on us. The flock is a safety structure for many reasons, especially in the harsh country of Australia. This is one reason why many of our birds can learn multiplicity of bird languages and can also be taught to speak words (Parrots, Budgies and Cockatoos) as they combine with other flocks and learn their local lingo. By pooling their resources they are able to stay safe and find food, water, companionship and mates especially in drought times. We do the same when we pool our resources as a family or community, whatever that may look like. Sharing our knowledge and experiences helps our family flock do life better. It is for this reason I exhort fathers in particular to share their life with their children while they are young, it is so important, and the children hunger for it. My book is just another way of helping dads do this well as it is full of Godly advice without being religious
“And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice.” – Ephesians 6:4 (Living Bible)
“A wise teacher makes learning a joy;” – Proverbs 15:2
“Teach a child to choose the right path, and when he is older, he will remain upon it.” – Proverbs 22:6
Have a wonderful and restful weekend. We are facing a heatwave today with total fire ban which is not good for the many birds nesting after recent rains. Breeding numbers here remain down this year also.
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