C. A. (Charles Alexander) Johns.

British birds in their haunts online

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is closed, but along the narrower part they are prominent under all
circumstances. So singular an apparatus obviously indicates that the
habit of the Shoveler is to sift water and mud for the sake of
securing the insects and worms which they contain. It resorts,
therefore, to the margins of fresh-water lakes, ponds, and ditches,
and is rarely seen at sea, nor does it ever dive after its food in
deep water, but frequently comes to land in quest of slugs, snails,
and worms. It is met with from time to time in many parts of England;
a tolerable number remain to breed with us, especially in the eastern
counties. Its distaste for the sea disqualifies it for inhabiting the
Arctic Regions; consequently it breeds in temperate countries, and
flies farther to the south in winter, having been observed on both
shores of the Mediterranean, and in some of the warm parts of India.
The extensive drainage of our fens and marshes has made it less
frequent in England than it formerly was; but in Holland and other
continental countries it is abundant. The nest, usually placed in a
tuft of grass, is made of dry grass mixed with down which the female
plucks from her own body, and contains eight or nine eggs.

The Shoveler is not sufficiently common in this country to claim any
importance as an article of food, but its flesh is said to be superior
in flavour even to that of the famous Canvas-backed Duck of America.

The male annually undergoes a moult, or change of feathers, similar
to that described as taking place in the Mallard.


Two central tail-feathers much elongated, black; head and neck
rich dark brown; back and flanks marked with zigzag black and
grey lines; front of the neck, and a line on each side, white;
speculum lustrous with green and purple, bounded above by
reddish brown, below by white; bill lead colour and black.
_Female_ - central tail-feathers scarcely elongated; head and
neck reddish brown speckled with dusky; upper feathers dusky
edged with reddish white; lower plumage reddish yellow spotted
with brown; speculum dull yellowish brown; no white line on the
side of the neck. Length twenty-six inches. Eggs dull greenish

The Pintail Duck is a northern bird which visits our shores in small
parties, during severe winters, and it nests sometimes in Ireland. In
form it is the most elegant of all the Ducks, and its movements are
described as being active and graceful. I have never myself had the
good fortune to see one alive, the only specimen I ever possessed
having been sent to me from Newcastle-on-Tyne, near which it was shot
at sea. It is not, however, considered a very rare species, as the
fishermen on the Norfolk coast, and perhaps elsewhere, are well
acquainted with it. Yarrell states, that on the coast of Dorsetshire
and Hampshire it is so well known as to have acquired a local name,
'Sea Pheasant'.[36] For this it is indebted to the length of its tail,
in which respect it differs from all the common Ducks. It arrives
early in autumn, and remains either on the coast or in the inland
marshes, until the return of spring; differing, indeed, little in its
habits from the common wild Duck. It is occasionally taken in decoys
in Norfolk, and has often been observed to associate with Wigeons. Its
note is described by Montagu as being 'extremely soft and inward'.

The Pintail Duck has a wide geographical range, as it either breeds in
or pays winter visits to the greater part of the northern hemisphere.
The male annually assumes in summer the plumage of the female,
resembling in this respect the Mallard, to be described hereafter. The
flesh is considered excellent, on which account it is much sought
after by wild-fowl shooters, both on the coast and in the fens.

[36] Willughby calls it the 'Sea Pheasant', or 'Cracker'.


Garganey [M]

Teal [M] [F]

Wigeon [M]

Pintail Duck [M]

[_p. 190._]]


Pochard [M] [F]

Tufted Duck [M]

Scaup [M]

Golden Eye [M] [F]]


Head and neck bright chestnut; on each side of the head a broad
green band edged with buff, inclosing the eye and extending to
the nape; lower part of the neck, back, and flanks, marked with
numerous black and white zigzag lines; breast reddish white,
with roundish black spots; speculum black, green and purple,
edged with white; bill dusky; irides brown; feet ash.
_Female_ - upper plumage dusky brown mottled with reddish grey;
throat, cheeks and a band behind the eyes yellowish white
spotted with black; speculum black and green. Length fourteen
inches and a half. Eggs yellowish white.

The Teal is the smallest, and by no means the least beautiful, among
the British Ducks. It is decidedly an indigenous species, as it breeds
in many parts both of Great Britain and Ireland, especially in the
eastern counties, in Welsh bogs, and northern mosses. It is
domesticated, too, without difficulty, and is generally to be found on
artificial and other pieces of water where the breed of water fowl is
encouraged. Its favourite summer resorts in England are lakes which
are lined with rushes, boggy places on the moors, and sedgy rivers. It
is an active bird, rising from the water with great facility, and
having a rapid flight. The few Teal which remain all the year with us
pair early in spring. I have observed them in couples on the Kennet,
in Berkshire, before winter had well departed. They appear to have a
strong attachment to any place on which they have once fixed to build
their nest, and return to the same locality year after year; and the
young brood remain in the neighbourhood of their birth-place until
pairing time in the following year. The nest is usually placed among
coarse herbage by the bank of a lake or river, and is constructed of
decayed vegetable matter, lined with down and feathers, and contains
from ten to fifteen eggs. The number, however, of these birds to be
found with us in summer is as nothing compared with the immense flocks
which visit our inland lakes and swamps in winter. They are then much
sought after for the table, being considered more delicate eating than
any others of the tribe. In some parts they repair to salt marshes and
the sea-shore, where they share the fate of the Wild Duck.

Willughby tells us that in his time the Teal and Wigeon, considered as
marketable goods, were classed together as 'half-fowl', their value
being only half that of the Wild Duck. In the fen counties they are
still ranked together as 'Half Ducks', and for the same reason.

The Teal has two notes, one a kind of quack, the other, uttered by the
male only during winter, which has been compared to the whistle of the
Plover. Its food consists of water insects, molluscs, worms, and the
seeds of grass and sedge. It is widely distributed in Scotland.


Crown dusky; over the eye a white band extending down the neck;
throat black; neck chestnut-brown streaked with white; breast
pale yellowish brown, with crescent-shaped black bars; back
mottled with dusky grey and brown; speculum greyish green
bordered above and below with white; bill dark brown; irides
brown; feet grey. Length sixteen inches. Eggs buff.

This elegant little bird visits us in March and April, being at that
time, it is supposed, on its way to the south. Though not among the
rarest of the tribe, it is now of unusual occurrence, but was formerly
so regular a visitor in the eastern counties, that it acquired the
provincial name of 'Summer Teal'. Young birds are commonly seen on the
Broads of Norfolk in July and August, distinguishable from young Teal
by the lighter colour of their plumage, more slender habit, and
greater length of neck. The nests are built among the thickest reed
beds, and owing now to protection their numbers are increasing. In
Ireland it is the rarest of the well-known ducks.


_Male_ - head and upper part of the neck chestnut, the cheeks
and crown speckled with black; a broad cream-coloured band
extending from the bill to the crown; throat nearly black; a
narrow collar of white and black wavy lines extending over the
back and flanks; lower part of the neck and sides of the breast
chocolate colour; scapulars velvet-black edged with white;
wing-coverts white; quills ash-brown; speculum glossy green,
with a black band above and below; tail wedge-shaped, two
middle feathers pointed, and the longest, dusky ash; under
tail-coverts black; bill bluish grey, the tip black; irides
hazel; feet dusky grey. _Female_ - head and neck reddish brown,
speckled with dusky; back and scapulars dusky brown, the
feathers edged with rusty red; wing-coverts brown, edged with
whitish; speculum without the green gloss; flanks reddish
brown. Length twenty inches. Eggs brownish white.

The name Whew Duck, or Whewer, by which, this bird is known in some
parts of England, was given to it on account of its emitting a shrill
whistle while flying. The name is an old one, for Ray and Willughby
describe it under the name of 'Whewer'. Its French name _Siffleur_,
'Whistler', has reference to the same peculiarity, and by this note
the bird may often be distinguished from others of the same tribe,
when so far off that the eye fails to identify it. The Wigeon ranks
next to the Teal and Wild Duck as an article of food, and, being more
plentiful than either of these birds, it is among the best known of
all the Ducks which frequent our shores. It breeds over most of
Sutherland, and sparingly elsewhere in the north; a few pairs are said
to nest also in various parts of Ireland.

Flocks of Wigeons repair to our shores in autumn, and either betake
themselves to inland lakes and morasses, or keep to the coast,
especially where there are extensive salt marshes. In winter their
numbers are greatly increased, especially in the south; and as they
feed by day as well as by night, they offer themselves a ready prey to
the fowler. Their food consists of marine and fresh-water insects,
small shellfish, sea-weed, and grass. Their nidification differs
little from that of the Teal.


Head and neck bright chestnut; breast, upper part of the back,
and rump black; back, scapulars, flanks, and abdomen greyish
white, marked with numerous fine wavy lines; no speculum; bill
black, with a broad lead-coloured transverse band; irides
bright orange; feet lead colour, the membranes black.
_Female_ - smaller; head, neck, and breast, reddish brown;
throat white, mottled with reddish; large brown spots on the
flanks; wavy lines on the back less distinct. Length nineteen
inches. Eggs greenish white.

A hardy northern bird of wide geographical range, with considerable
power of flight, a skilful diver, and not particular as to diet, the
Pochard is an abundant species. It breeds in some districts: But it
is principally as a winter visitant that it is known in the south of
Europe. In Norfolk 'Red-Headed' Pochards are perhaps more numerous
than any other kind of Duck which falls to the gun of the sea-side
fowler. Small parties of these birds may frequently be seen by day
flying over the sea, or swimming securely in the offing; and in the
evening great numbers resort to the fens and salt marshes, where they
feed on various kinds of animal matter, and the roots and leaves of
grasses and aquatic plants. As they are considered good eating, and
command a ready sale, they contribute to the support of the sea-side
population, who, when thrown out of work by the severe weather, wander
about the shore by day and lie in wait by night, armed with guns of
various calibre, for the chance of securing in one or two Ducks the
substitute for a day's wages.

They are variously known in different places by the name of Pochards,
Pokers, Dunbirds, and Red-eyed Pochards. On some parts of the coast of
Norfolk I found that they are included with the Wigeon under the
common name of 'Smee-Duck'.

The Pochard builds its nest among reeds, in Russia, Denmark, and the
north of Germany, and lays twelve or thirteen eggs.

The Red-crested is a different species from the 'Red-headed.'


Feathers on the back of the head elongated; head, neck, breast,
and upper plumage black, with purple, green, and bronze
reflections; speculum and under plumage white, except the
abdomen, which is dusky; bill blue, nail black; irides bright
yellow; feet bluish, with black membranes. _Female_ - smaller,
the crest shorter; upper plumage dull black, clouded with
brown; under plumage reddish white, spotted on the breast and
flanks with reddish brown. Length seventeen inches. Eggs
greenish white spotted with light brown.

The points of difference in habit between this and the preceding
species are so few that it is scarcely necessary to say more than that
it is a regular winter visitor to the British Isles, and is
distributed, generally in small flocks, never alone, over our lakes
and marshes, arriving in October and taking its departure in March or
April. Its food is less exclusively of a fishy nature than that of the
Scaup Duck, consequently its flesh is more palatable, being, in the
estimation of French gastronomists, _un rôti parfait_. The Tufted Duck
now breeds in a good many districts here.


Head and upper part of the neck black, with green reflections;
breast and rump black; back and scapulars whitish, marked with
numerous fine wavy black lines; belly, flanks, and speculum,
white; bill blue, the nail and edges black; irides bright
yellow; feet ash-grey, with dusky membranes. _Female_ - a broad
whitish band round the base of the bill; head and neck dusky
brown; breast and rump dark brown; back marked with fine wavy
lines of black and white; flanks spotted and pencilled with
brown, irides dull yellow. Length twenty inches. Eggs

The Scaup is so called from its feeding on 'scaup', a northern word
for a bed of shellfish.[37] It is a northern bird, arriving on our
coasts in October and November, and remaining with us till the
following spring. During this time it frequents those parts of the
coast which abound in shellfish, mostly diving for its food after the
manner of the Scoters. On the coast of Norfolk, where Scaups often
appear during winter in large flocks, they are called 'Mussel Ducks',
a name no less appropriate than Scaup; for mussels, and indeed many
other kinds of shellfish, as well as insects and marine plants, seem
equally acceptable to them. Selby records a single instance of the
Scaup having bred so far south as Sutherlandshire, a female having
been seen in the month of June, accompanied by a young one. They have
paired on Loch Leven. It is generally distributed along the shores of
Great Britain, excepting on the south coast [of Ireland]. In August,
1861, I observed two birds swimming sociably on a small fresh-water
loch in the island of Islay, which, upon examination through a
telescope, appeared to me to be, one, a kind of Goose, the other
decidedly a Duck of some kind. On inquiry I found that the former was
a Bernacle Goose, which had been caught in a neighbouring island in
the previous winter, and had been given to the laird's keeper, who
pinioned it and turned it out on the loch to shift for itself. Of the
Duck nothing was known, nor had it been observed before. It eventually
proved to be an adult male Scaup Duck, but what had induced it to
remain there all the summer in the society of a bird of a different
tribe, is a question which I did not attempt to solve.

The Scaup Duck is very abundant in Holland during winter, covering the
inland seas with immense flocks. It is found more sparingly in other
continental countries. It breeds in the extreme north, both in the
eastern and western hemispheres.

[37] 'Avis hæc _the Scaup Duck_ dicta est quoniam _scalpam_,
i. e. pisces testaceos fractos seu contritos,
esitat.' - WILLUGHBY, p. 279.


A white patch under the eye; head and neck black, lustrous with
violet and green; back black; scapulars, great wing-coverts,
speculum, and under parts, white; bill black; irides golden
yellow; feet orange, with black membranes. _Female_ - all the
head and neck dark brown; feathers of the back dusky bordered
with dark ash; greater wing-coverts white tipped with black;
speculum and under parts white; tip of the bill yellowish,
irides and feet pale yellow. Length eighteen and a half inches.
Eggs buffy white.

This pretty, active little Duck is a regular winter visitant to the
British shores, from autumn to spring, resorting to most of the
localities frequented by other species, and frequently falling to the
sportsman's gun, though little prized for the table. Females and young
birds, called Mormons, are most numerous in England. They are very
strong of flight, and are remarkable for making with their wings as
they cleave the air a whistling sound, thought to resemble the
tinkling of bells, whence the German name _die Schelle Ente_, Bell
Duck, the Norfolk provincial name Rattle-Wing, and the systematic name
_Clangula_. The young male does not make this noise, and having also
dissimilar plumage from the adult, has been described by some authors
as a distinct species under the name of Morillon.

The food of the Golden Eye varies with its haunts. In estuaries it
feeds on crustaceous and molluscous animals and small fish, which it
obtains by diving. In rivers and lakes it feeds principally on the
larvæ and pupæ of insects, for which also it dives in clear deep
water. The call-note is an unmelodious quack or croak.

The Golden Eye breeds only in high latitudes, and builds its nest in
holes of trees, often at the height of twelve or fifteen feet from the
water, into which it has been seen to convey its young one by one,
holding them under the bill, and supported on its neck. The Lapps, in
order to supply themselves with eggs, are in the habit of placing in
the trees, on the banks of the rivers and lakes frequented by these
birds, boxes with an entrance hole, which, though invariably robbed,
are visited again and again.

The Golden Eye is found in many countries of Europe, in Northern Asia,
and in North America.


_Winter plumage_ - head, neck, elongated scapulars, under parts,
and lateral tail-feathers white; a large patch of
chestnut-brown on each cheek; flanks ash-grey; rest of the
plumage brownish black; two central tail-feathers very long;
bill black, with a transverse orange band; irides orange; feet
yellow with dark membranes. Length, including the tail,
twenty-two inches. The _female_ wants the white scapulars and
elongated tail; head and neck dark brown and greyish white;
below the ear-coverts a patch of brown; neck in front light
brown, clouded with darker brown; upper plumage generally dark
brown, under white. Length sixteen inches. Eggs greenish white,
tinged with buff.

Though a few specimens of this beautiful bird are obtained from time
to time in various parts of England, especially on the coast of the
eastern counties, it cannot be considered other than a rarity. 'Among
the northern islands of Scotland, and along the coasts of the
mainland', Macgillivray tells us,'these birds make their appearance in
October, in small flocks, which gradually enlarge by the accession of
new families. In the Bay of Cromarty, where they are very common, it
is pleasant to see them in small flocks scattered over the water. They
are most expert swimmers, and live on bivalve shellfish and crustacea,
which they obtain by diving in shallow or moderately deep water. The
male in swimming raises his tail obliquely, in rough water almost
erects it, and is remarkable for the grace and vivacity of his
movements. Their flight is rapid, direct, and generally performed at
the height of a few feet. They rise easily from the water, especially
when facing a breeze, and alight rather abruptly. Sometimes during the
day, but more frequently at night, they emit various loud and rather
plaintive cries, as well as cacklings of shorter guttural notes.' Mr.
Hewitson, who met with many of them in Norway, considers their note to
be strikingly wild and most interesting. Farther north the Long-Tailed
Duck is yet more abundant. Mr. Dunn says, 'This species (Calloo) is
very abundant in both Orkney and Shetland, arriving about the middle
of October, and departing again in the month of March. It is to be met
with in all the inlets or voes, generally in large flocks, never far
from the land, feeding upon small shellfish and star-fish. When on the
wing it utters a musical cry, something like "Calloo", which may be
heard at a great distance. From this cry it derives its provincial
name.' In the Arctic regions of both continents these birds are so
numerous as to be known by the name of 'Arctic Ducks'. They build
their nests among rushes near the shore of fresh-water lakes, and line
them with down from their breasts, like the Eider Duck. Iceland
appears to be the extreme southern limit of their breeding-ground.

The Long-Tailed Duck is described by Willughby under the name of _Anas
caudacuta Islandica_. by the natives called _Havelda_. Selby and
modern ornithologists have preserved the Iceland name in _Harolda_.


Eider Duck [M] [F] [M]

Long Tailed Duck [M] [F]

Velvet Scoter [F] [M]

Common Scoter [M] [F]

[_p. 198._]]


Smew [M] [F]

Merganser [M]

Dabchick [M] [F]

Goosander [M]]


Prolongations of the bill flat; upper part of the head
velvet-black, with a central whitish band, lower greenish
white; neck and back white; breast ringed with red; lower
plumage black; bill and feet greenish grey; irides brown.
_Female_ - general plumage reddish brown, with transverse black
bars; wing-coverts black, bordered with dark reddish brown; two
whitish bars across the wing; belly brown barred with black.
Length twenty-five inches. Eggs shining greenish grey.

The Eider Duck differs from all the birds of the same tribe hitherto
described, in being essentially and absolutely a sea-bird. Rarely
found on inland waters, it does not even visit the fresh-water lochs
which, in many places in the north, are only separated from the sea by
a bar of sand and shingle. It spends the greater part of its time on
the water, and feeds on fish, molluscs, and other animal matter which
it can obtain by diving. In the latter art it is very expert, and when
pursued by the fowler generally manages to escape, as it can remain a
long time under water, and on rising to the surface is ready to
descend again almost instantly. Though a northern bird, it is
subjected to no privations by the freezing of lakes and marshes, since
it finds its rest and food on the open sea. Consequently it is not
migratory, and stray specimens only visit the southern shores of
England. Where it was bred, there, probably, or not far off, it
remains all the year round. The Farn Islands, off the coast of
Northumberland, are considered to be the extreme southern limit of
its breeding-ground. In the Hebrides, the Orkneys and Shetland
Islands, it is quite at home, but in none of these places is it found
in sufficient numbers to give it importance. It is rare on the Irish

In the Arctic regions, in Iceland, and on the rocky coasts of Norway
and Sweden, Eider Ducks are very numerous. In Labrador, Audubon
informs us, they begin to form their nests about the end of May or the
beginning of June. 'For this purpose some resort to islands scantily
furnished with grass; others choose a site beneath the spreading
boughs of stunted firs, and, in such places, five, six, or even eight
are sometimes found beneath a single bush; many are placed on the
sheltered shelvings of rocks a few feet above high-water mark. The
nest, which is sunk as much as possible into the ground, is formed of
sea-weeds, mosses, and dried twigs, so matted and interlaced as to
give an appearance of neatness to the central cavity, which rarely

Online LibraryC. A. (Charles Alexander) JohnsBritish birds in their haunts → online text (page 25 of 39)