Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are often taken for granted, but I hadn’t seen one for quite sometime. So when I came across several males and females on the local canal they were a pure delight to see as they paddled across the still waters with autumn reflections.
The male of the species has a brownish-red head, light grey back plumage, a deep black breast and dark tail. It also has a red eye and a pale patch on the dark bill. The female has a brown head and breast, flecked brown back plumage, and a brownish eye with a white ring. Similar to the Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and the Scaup.
They dive beneath the water for seeds, shoots and roots, snails, insects, and small fish, often feeding at night. The nest is a large pad of leaves and down in reeds near the water. The female lays 8 to 10 eggs in 1 brood, from April-July. They can live for up to 10 years.
Seen all year round, and found at large lakes and estuaries. The Pochard can accumulate in quite large flocks, and in the late autumn hundred may come together on a lake. They are quite rare breeding birds in the UK. This is one of the commonest inland diving birds, along with the Tufted Duck which often accompanies it. Widespread.
Photograph taken October 2011, nature reserve, Staffordshire. Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38. © Pete Hillman 2011.
The male Wigeon is quite a colourful duck with a chestnut head and neck, a yellow forehead, a pink flushed breast and white under belly, which is quite distinctive in flight along with bold white wing patches. The body is round and grey, with a black and white stern. It has a dark green speculum. The beak is short, black-tipped and greyish. The female is less colourful with mottled greyish to rusty-brown plumage, and maybe confused with a female Mallard.
They feed on short grass, and also on aquatic plants, shoots, roots and seeds. The nest is made in long vegetation on the ground and near water. The female lays 8 to 9 eggs in 1 brood from April to July. They can live for up to 15 years.
The Wigeon form fairly close flocks on water or on the side of banks, and can be quite a colourful sight. They are quite a shy bird and will fly off when approached. It can be seen on estuaries, reservoirs and freshwater marshes when more widespread in winter. Large flocks also winter on the coast. Seen all year round, and fairly widespread, and especially abundant in winter.
Photographs taken February 2013, nature reserve, Staffordshire. Camera Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2013.
These ducks have huge spatulate bills. The male’s breeding plumage is quite distinctive with a dark green head, a bright yellow eye, bright white breast and chestnut coloured flanks. They have a green speculum. The female is somewhat plainer with mottled brown-streaked plumage. They have grey forewings seen in flight, where as the males are pale blue.
They feed on aquatic plants and insects sifted from the water with their large bills, or from diving below the water’s surface. They build a nest near water in a down or leaf-lined hollow. The female lays 8 to 12 eggs in 1 brood from March to June. They can live for u to 20 years.
Seen all year round, on freshwater, marshes, and sheltered estuaries. They are more widespread in the winter months, but they have an RSPB Amber status.
Photographs of Shoveler (Anas clypeata), taken February 2014, park pond, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2014. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
This very large duck which has a long serrated bill for catching fish. The male has a green-black head with a hooked red bill, and a salmon pink to white body. The female has a dark brown head, a sharply defined white throat and dark collar, a smooth downward-pointing crest, and blue-grey plumage. The juvenile has a striped face and brown-greyish body.
It feeds by diving from the surface of the water to take fish. It nests in a hole in a tree near water, and lays 8-11 eggs in 1 brood from April to May. It can live for up to 8 years.
Seen all year round, and it is found in small groups in winter, whilst in summer breeding pairs prefer upland reservoirs and fast-flowing streams with stony shores. A very shy bird, and easily scared off even from a long distance.
Photograph of Goosander (Mergus merganser), taken November 2013, nature reserve Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
The females have a short crest on the nape of the neck, and have a dark brown body with pale brown flanks. The males are altogether darker but with white flanks and a long wispy tuft on the nape. Both sexes have yellow eyes and blue-grey bills with a black tip, and bold white wingbars. The juvenile has a dark, dull brown body and a slight tuft.
They dive beneath the water to feed on molluscs and insects. The nest is formed of a down-lined hollow in long vegetation close to water. It lays 8-11 eggs in 1 brood, from May to June. They can live for up to 15 years.
Seen all year round, and inhabits lakes, gravel pits, and reservoirs. Along with Pochards, the Tufted Duck can form large winter flocks on inland waters. There has been a decline in breeding numbers, yet it widespread throughout the British Isles.
Photographs of Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) taken October 2011, nature reserve, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2011. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.
Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
Wild Muscovies are black and white, but with breeding there are different colour varieties, from iridescent green, brown, blues and lavender plumage. They have large, strong clawed feet which they use for roosting in trees, and they are webbed for swimming. Their faces are bare and bright red, or red and black, and the drakes have pronounced carnacules at the base of their bills and a low erectile crest of feathers.
They feed on small invertebrates and plant material. Nests are usually made in the hollow of a tree where they lay between 8 to 21 eggs in a clutch. They breed three times a year. They can live for up to 8 years.
Muscovies do not swim as much as other ducks due to the fact that their oil glands are not as well-developed as other species.
Seen all year round, they are found in ponds, rivers and streams. Native to Mexico, Central and South America, and was introduced to Europe and the UK some centuries ago as domesticated farm produce, from which they are commonly called ‘Barbary Ducks’. Although they are a tropical species they do fairly well in colder climes.
Photographs taken August 2008, park, Staffordshire, and April 2015, Buxton, Derbyshire.
We are all familiar with this common duck. Most of the photographs here have been taken along my local canal. The male (called a drake) has quite colourful markings with a bright yellow bill, green head and blueish speculum, but these colours vary depending on the time of year. The female also has the blue speculum, but the bill is brown, grey, or olive. They have streaked brown plumage. The sex of the Mallard cannot be determined until at least 3 -4 months afer hatching, as they look the same, with brownish plumage. Similar to Gadwell, Shoveler (Anas clypeata), and Pintail.
It feeds on small aquatic invertebrates, seeds, roots, and shoots. It builds a down-lined nest on the ground or raised sites. Lays 9-13 eggs in 1 brood, January to August. They can live for up to 15 years.
Seen all year round. It lives in all kinds of water habitats, including lakes and ponds. The non-breeding population has declined over the last 25 years, hence it has an RSPB Amber status, but it is still the commonest and most widespread duck in the British Isles.