EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
This week, it is DIVING DUCKS.
Ducks can broadly be divided into those that feed from the surface of the water (without submerging) or out of the water (grazing etc), and those which dive to get their food, be it fish, invertebrates or plant material. So, in short, dabbling ducks and diving ducks. This week we will look at diving ducks.
Diving ducks, themselves can be sub-divided further into Aythya ducks, scoters, eiders, sawbills and others (eg Goldeneye).
The genus Aythya contains the standard small to medium-sized diving ducks which you encounter everywhere from the local park to the sea. In a British context there are three main species: Tufted Duck, Pochard and Scaup.
The Tufted Duck is an abundant diving duck in most freshwater settings. Only adult males have the full drooping crest at the back of the head. Females and youngsters have a lesser crest or just a bit of an angle on the back of the head. Males are black with white flanks, females are dark brown with paler brown flanks. Note some female Tufties can have a white Scaup-like blaze on the face.
Pochards are the chunky grey-backed diving ducks with sky-lope foreheads. Females are brown and grey (concentrate on the head shape), while males have lovely red heads, black breasts and pale grey bodies. Pochards spend an inordinate amount of time asleep! They are much, much commoner in winter, and only s a scarce breeding bird.
Scaup are a bit like a mix between Tufties and Pochards: hefty in build with a grey body (male) and dark head and breast; females have white blazes and brown heads and bodies, with less constrast between the back and flank than on a Tufted Duck. Concetrate on two key poitns: head shape (steep forehead and rounded back, no tuft) and bill pattern (black more or less restricted to the tip aka the nail).
Three are two main species in the UK; both are largely wintering birds. They are both good-sized black ducks which are at home at sea.
Common Scoter males are all black with a splash of orange on the bill. Females are dark brown with paler cheeks. They can form large flocks off shore.
Velvet Scoters are also all black (males), but with a white patch around the eye and a more obvious white panel in the secondaries of the wing (seen as a white patch on folded wing, or as a more obvious white sqaure on the trailing edge of the wing on flying birds. Females are like a dark brown version of the male, with a similar wing patch.
In a UK context, Eider is the only eider which is at all common (King Eiders are regular but rare). They are large, chunky seaducks with wedge shaped bill and head combination. Males are white above, black below and have black flight feathers and tail and black and green on the head: unmistakable! Except, beware eclipse birds, when the head and neck are also dark, as is a large part of the back.
There are three sawbills (or mergansers), which are named for their narrow, saw-tooth–edged bill, which they use for grasping slippery fish.
Goosanders are large, long-bodied handsome ducks, the duck equivalent of a diver or cormorant. Generally found in freshwaters sites in winter. Males are easy to ID, females are like female Red-breasted Mergansers, but note the more robust, ‘hooked’ bill-tip and the abrupt contact between the orange head and grey and buff neck.
Red-breasted Mergansers (at least the males) are one of our most delightfully attractive ducks or indeed birds! They are largely found at the coast, preferring saltwater to fresh. Females are slighter than female Goosanders and have a blurred distinction between the upper and lower neck colour.
Smews are tiny very shy ducks. Males are unmistakable, females are a little bit like grey bodied Ruddy Ducks or even red-headed grebes. They are usually found on freshwater bodies in southern England, particularly after continental freezes.
Goldeneye is a common winter visitor. Note the distinctive head shape. Long-tailed Ducks are small diving ducks, mainly found on the sea. Males are spectacular, females less so, but still distinctive. Both have plain black wings.
All photos from Alamy