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.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This large bodied goose is both adaptable and social having been imported into Europe and Asia from its native lands in North America. A monogamous bird which pairs for life, it is considered a pest in some areas as being both messy and aggressive, particularly within urban environments.
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.
Winter visitors to the UK, formerly considered a full species, but now considered a sub-species of the Tundra Swan.
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