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.
Often referred to as the Common Pochard, the drake, in line with many other duck species, is readily identifiable in the winter and breeding season with its bright coloured plumage and distinct patternation but in its ‘eclipse plumage’ during the summer months, becomes a rather dull non descript bird, not unlike the female. The drake’s winter plumage is bold and striking with a pale grey body, darker grey upperwing coverts and paler grey flight feathers. The primary and secondary flight feathers have dark tips and the underwing is slightly off white. The breast is gloss black as are the rump, tail, undertail coverts and mantle (below the nape of the neck). The head is a rich red brown with a sloping forehead and peaked crown. The eyes are orange and the bill a dark grey with a black tip and a pale grey band across the upper mandible, between just below the nostrils and finishing approximately two thirds of the way down the bill. Legs and webbed feet are a bluey grey. In eclipse plumage the male almost mirrors the female but overall has a greyer body and darker breast area with a plain face. The female has a matt brown head with pale grey cheeks and above eye stripe extending from the base of the bill and a pale grey throat. The body is grey brown morphing to a darker brown on the back with dark grey brown upper wings. The bill is similar to that of the male but the eyes are a dark brown. Juvenile birds are similar to the adult female but without the eye stripe and with more mottling on the underparts.
‘Eclipse plumage’ is typical of ducks and can be described as dull, uninteresting female-like plumage worn by the male during the summer following breeding. It, therefore “eclipses” his usual bright plumage.
Flock of Pochards
Both males and females are generally quiet birds but during the breeding season the male has a display call consisting of a wheezing whistle which rises and falls similar to ‘kil – kil’. The female has a softer purring growl.
Frequently a nocturnal feeder, diving for its food, the pochard eats aquatic plants, roots, shoots and seeds and occasional aquatic insects and their larvae. When diving the pochard will regularly reach depths of up to 2.5 metres.
Male Pochard landing on water
Pochards spend the summer in lowland lakes, reservoirs or gravel pits particularly in eastern England and Scotland. In the winter, with the dramatic increase of migrants, they are widespread throughout the UK mainly in estuaries and on larger lakes and reservoirs.
Pochards are social birds and will often be seen in flocks. Spring and summer are the best times to spot Pochards as the male is in its clearly defined breeding plumage which is easily recognisable. Females and males in eclipse plumage closely resemble many other species of dull brown ducks, particularly at a distance.
The nest is normally well concealed, built on the ground or over water constructed using grasses, leaves and reeds lined with down. A single brood consisting of between 8 – 10 grey green eggs is laid from April to July. Incubation lasts for around twenty five days with fledging taking up to fifty five days after hatching.
Pair of mating Pochards
Mother Pochard swimming with her chicks
The lifespan of the pochard is between eight to ten years.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
A native of Japan and China, the mandarin duck was first introduced into the UK in the 18th century and started populations in the wild in the 1930’s following escapes from captivity. The UK population is estimated to be in the region of 7,000 birds.
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.
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.
Winter visitors to the UK, formerly considered a full species, but now considered a sub-species of the Tundra Swan.