Ian’s Bird of the Week – Freckled Duck ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 9/30/13
Several friends have inquired how I got on with the quest for Freckled Duck photos a fortnight ago, so here it is as bird of the week as it’s a rare and unusual duck, even if these ones didn’t want to cooperate in the portrait photo category. There were perhaps a dozen or more at the reported site of Hasties Swamp just south of Atherton town, but only two came within cooee of the hide and spent most of the day sitting on this log. Note the diagnostic ski-jump-shaped bill and the slight peak on the head of the bird on the end of the log. The duck beside this one is a Hardhead, so they’re approximately the same size.
It was a lovely day at Hasties (second photo), so it was no hardship loafing there waiting for the ducks to do something. The log the ducks liked is the farther one in this photo, but this was taken with my phone and makes it look farther away than it actually is. It’s a two storey hide, and this was taken from the upper deck, though I spent most of the time downstairs. The log was popular with various species of ducks including Pacific Blacks and Grey Teal, so the Freckled Ducks, all in non-breeding garb were easy to overlook.
Very occasionally, one of the ducks would swim over to a smaller log (hidden behind the branch in the second photo) and peck at a coot if it came too close. You can see the coot in the third photo.
Sometimes it would swim away to feed, but always on the other side of the log. In the fourth photo it is maybe contemplating such a foray, and is testing the water behind one of several Nankeen Night-Herons that came out to feed in the late afternoon – apparently they roost in the trees near the hide.
The fifth photo shows a distant pair of Freckled Ducks thirteen years ago in breeding condition at Werribee in Victoria and you can see the characteristic red colour of the male. The peaks look more conspicuous on both sexes, but I don’t know whether these feathers grow longer then or whether they are erectile.
So why is this rather drab duck so interesting to both birders and avian taxonomists? Firstly, it’s endemic to Australia and rare, particular in North Queensland. It’s main breeding range is in inland areas of New South Wales, Victoria, Southern Western Australia (an isolated population) and the channel country of Southwestern Queensland where breeding takes place in densely vegetated lakes and swamps, including lignum in more arid floodplains. When these areas dry out, the birds move to the coast, which is when they become easier to find. Presumably the birds currently in North Queensland (they’ve been reported in both Townsville and the Atherton Tableland) are from the Cooper’s Creek and Paroo River catchments.
Secondly, taxonomists find the Freckled Duck interesting because it has no close relatives. It is the only member of the genus Stictonetta and both morphological and DNA studies support placing it in own sub-family that diverged from other ducks and geese very early on. The name Stictonetta means ‘spotted duck’ in Greek and, in a case of tautological overkill, naevosa means ‘spot abundance’ in Latin.
I was going to include a Snake of the Week but this is getting rather long, so I’ll hold it over till next time.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
What birdwatchers and photographers won’t go through to find those special and rare birds. Thanks, Ian, for showing us yet another interesting member of the Anatidae – Ducks, Geese & Swans Family. I am so thankful that Ian is letting me share his newsletters here on this blog. We have been introduced to numerous birds we have never have heard of, let along seen.
Check out all of Ian’s Anatidae Family photos.
Here are a few more facts about this duck from Wikipedia. The Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) is a moderately large, broad-bodied duck native to southern Australia. The duck is protected by law. Dark in colour with fine off-white speckles all over, it is most easily identified by its large head with a peaked (as opposed to rounded) crown.
The Freckled Duck feeds by dabbling in shallow water, often by wading near the edge. It prefers large, well-vegetated swamps, but moves to open water after breeding or in dry periods.
In flight, it has a distinctive rapid wing beat and holds its head low, making it appear hunchbacked. It does not turn rapidly and lands clumsily.
In dry years, the ephemeral wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin and Lake Eyre disappear and Freckled Ducks migrate to permanent water in coastal regions. This concentration in populated areas, coupled with their habit of circling repeatedly at low altitude when disturbed (even when being shot at) makes them particularly vulnerable to hunting.
Freckled Duck – Wikipedia
Ian’s Anatidae Family photos