The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
Pair of Garganeys, female foreground, male background
Female Garganey in-flight
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
37cm to 41cm
60cm to 63cm
250g to 450g
During the breeding season, the markings of a male garganey make them relatively easy to distinguish from other birds, with a bold curved white stripe above the eye, a chestnut-red face and mottled chestnut breast, and a darker crown. The rest of their body is flecked brown, changing to grey upper wings and flanks. Their wings feature a grey-blue patch, bordered in white, which is visible in flight.
Once breeding is complete they moult into an eclipse plumage, which is less distinctive and muted, with tones of grey and pale brown, with a pale white throat and coloured wing bar.
Females are less conspicuous, and easily confused with female teals, with a mostly brown with buff and darker brown scaling. Their facial markings include a darker brown crown, golden brown stripes above and below the eye, and a darker brown stripe from the eye to the back of the head. Their upper wings are grey-brown and they have the same long grey beak as the male garganey.
Juvenile gargeney are similar to females, but have less obvious markings, and have more speckling on their bellies.
Garganey are medium-sized ducks, slightly smaller than mallards and larger than teals.
Males are frequently larger than females, with both sexes falling within the following ranges for weight, length and wingspan:
Garganey standing in grassy wetlands
Garganey are a relatively non-vocal species, with females being particularly quiet, only uttering a low-pitched quack when taking off.
Males have a more distinctive crackling call, especially heard during the mating season.
Garganey on the water stretching its wings
Garganey are mainly nocturnal feeders, foraging for insects, crustaceans and plant matter from the water’s surface or by dabbling just below.
Molluscs and insects are the chief food taken in spring, with more crustaceans taken as summer arrives. In autumn and winter, their diet is mainly plant-based, with seeds from pondweed, dock, wild rice and sedges and grasses common.
Initially, the diet of baby garganey is animal-based, with small insects and their larvae the main foods.
Garganey foraging for food on the water's surface
Breeding grounds favoured by garganey are usually inland lakes, freshwater marshes, swampy meadows, flooded ditches and shallow wetlands with plenty of aquatic vegetation.
Wintering grounds are located along coasts and estuaries, as well as further inland at reservoirs and rice paddies.
The breeding range of a garganey extends from parts of Ireland and the British Isles in the west, parts of southern Sweden, Finland and sub-Arctic Russia in the north, and throughout Central Asia into Mongolia and the extreme north-eastern regions of China in the east.
Parts of southern Europe, including northern Italy and Greece form the southern extent of their range.
Garganey are fully migratory, and spend winters in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and south-east Asia, as far south as Malaysia.
Estimates state that there are up to 1.1 million garganey pairs breeding in Europe each year, with the vast majority heading to Russia.
Other countries with large breeding populations include Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Finland and Latvia.
Garganey standing on the muddy riverbank
Garganey are rare visitors to the UK with only around 100 breeding pairs arriving each spring, and departing for their African wintering grounds by October at the latest.
Some migratory birds may be seen in passage over coastal regions of the extreme north-west of Scotland, but a sighting is definitely not an everyday occurrence.
In the UK, around 100 breeding pairs of garganey visit each year and these are usually more likely to be found in central and southern England.
In northern regions, including the east coast of Scotland and the Western Isles passage sightings have also been occasionally observed.
Male (front) and female (back) Garganeys
The oldest recorded garganey lived to 14 years and 6 months. First time breeding occurs at one year. Survival is also thought to be greater among males than females.
Data from Latvian records that the leading predator of garganey nests is the American mink. Depending on location, other predators include crocodiles, red foxes, and raccoons.
In England and Wales, garganey are listed as Schedule I birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which gives their eggs, nest sites, and young extra protection against being disturbed or destroyed.
Additionally, the Act makes it illegal for garganey to be knowingly killed, injured or taken into captivity.
In the UK, garganey have Amber status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern List, but across their European range they are considered common to abundant and are a species of least concern.
Habitat loss is a concern due to the reclamation of wetlands and the destruction of nest sites by farming practices such as mowing.
Avian influenza is also a common threat to garganey.
Garganey swimming in natural habitat
Meadows are a typical nest location chosen by garganey pairs, fairly close to water, but occasionally can be up to 150 m (500 ft) away.
Nests are shallow scrapes in the ground, under rushes or tall grasses, lined with plant materials and some feathers.
Garganey begin to arrive on their breeding grounds from March onwards, with nesting beginning in April. May is the peak laying month, with the latest clutches being occasionally hatched in July. One brood is raised each year.
A typical clutch contains between 8 and 11 pale straw-coloured eggs, with no surface markings. Eggs measure 46 mm by 33 mm (1.8 in by 1.3 in), and are incubated by the female alone for 21 to 23 days, during which time the male continues to guard the site.
Females raise their young alone, with males departing for moulting grounds.
Pairing occurs early in the season, on wintering grounds, and most garganey arrive on their breeding grounds already paired. The pair bond lasts until incubation, with the female hatching the eggs alone and raising young without any intervention from the male. Some pairings may resume ahead of the following breeding season.
Male (front) and female (back) Garganeys sitting on the riverbank
A relatively social species, garganey either nest in single pairs or groups of up to 6 to 7 pairs.
Males defend the nest site from predators, and can be noisy and aggressive in this role.
Garganey sleep for short periods during the day and night on the water, and are more active at night, foraging for food on the water’s surface.
Garganey are a fully migratory species, with breeding grounds across northern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.
Once breeding is complete, all garganey depart for their wintering grounds, which are found across central Africa, India and Bangladesh, and into south-east Asia.
Garganey visit the UK to breed, but are not resident all year round. Arrivals begin from March onwards, and by October (often much earlier), the latest birds have left for their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.
Flock of Garganeys in flight
The species name is pronounced as it is written ‘gah-gen-nee’.
Estimates state that between 95 and 120 pairs of garganey arrive in the UK to breed each year.
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
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