Long-tailed Duck - 1st October 2019A long-lived bird in the wild, the Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis spends most of its life at sea, often congregating in huge rafts. It is believed to be the species which spends the greatest proportion of its time diving, in relation to time on the surface. It forages for aquatic invertebrates, including insects and crustaceans; also some bivalves, fish, fish eggs, and plant matter. Depth records extend down to 60 metres.
Keeping the Long-tailed Duck is a challenge. Clean cool water is a must and they like to be in the company of their own kind. They prefer to nest near others, making a shallow scrape in the ground and lining it with available vegetation and some down. 6-9 pale grey/olive eggs are incubated for 24-29 days. The young leave the nest soon after they are dry and can feed themselves immediately.
The traditional North American name of 'Oldsquaw' was considered possibly offensive to the native peoples, usage of the word having changed over time to have alternative connotations. The hoo-ha raged around the turn of the century. Political correctness gone mad? Possibly not: 'We refuse to change on the basis of being politically correct; we will change in the name of uniformity,' said Banks, an ornithologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the Smithsonian. So Long-tailed Duck it is.
Long-tailed drake in breeding plumage - Zoe Brodie-James
Shiny is not just for Strictly - 15th September 2019Most of our domestic breeds of duck are descended from the Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. This breed takes its name from Cayuga Lake (which is itself named after the native Cayuga People). Some assumptions are made that it is partly descended from the American Black Duck, which is the closest wild relative of the Mallard. The Cayuga drake develops a tail curl like a Mallard, which the American Black Duck does not.
The drakes tend to retain their black plumage better than the females which can develop white patches as they get older. It seems that unfortunately the birds with the brightest sheen tend to turn white earlier. This can be selected against, and some birds do remain black into later life.
The Cayuga is a heavy breed with drakes weighing: 3.6kg (8lb) and the ducks weighing: 3.2kg (7lb). When the ducks are in full lay you can expect between 50-100 eggs per year. The earlier eggs have a washable dark pigment on the shells which becomes less intense as the season progresses.
Handsome heavies - Val Kitt’s Cayuga ducks
What was your Gateway Bird? - 8th September 2019Was this your ‘gateway' bird'? The Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata is our bird of the month for September. Well any month really, for it has introduced many to the diverse and colourful world of wild waterfowl. The native range of the Mandarin is SE Siberia, Korea, E China and Japan. Particularly in the latter, they can still be seen in village streams and on temple ponds. They symbolise love and fidelity. Whilst the duck is sitting, the drake often stands by, appearing to be on guard. In reality, the pair bond only lasts until the end of incubation, or rarely, early brood-rearing. The female rears the young alone.
Mandarin boys - Morag Jones
A popular calling - 29th August 2019Just what is it that makes the Call duck so popular? These small, cobby, gobby and bright birds regularly make up the greatest proportion of exhibits at waterfowl shows. Weighing in at a little more than half a kilo, they make up for it in noise. Also known as Decoy Ducks, the first word comes from the Dutch language "de" + "kooi", literally "the cage", due to their use in duck decoys, structures used to catch wildfowl, consisting of a central pond and radiating water-filled arms. The noise of the tame residents entices wild birds to the pond, giving them a false sense of security, and allowing them to be easily captured. In the Seventeenth Century, they had already been selected for their voice and size: smaller birds were easier to transport. The Magpie is a particularly challenging colour to get right.
On the 3rd November, the sound of some of the very best will be carrying around Stratford Park Leisure Centre Stroud from the hundreds that will be gathered at our 32nd Champion Waterfowl Exhibition.
Magpie Calls - challenging to get right
Smoke and Mirrors - 20th August 2019The Speculum feathers, Latin for mirror, on a wing are an area of iridescence usually on the secondary Flight feathers. The Brazilian teal has a large area of lustrous green, extending onto the Primary-feathers; unlike Mallard ducks it does not have the clear black & white bordering. The Bronze-winged duck is named after its very striking speculum. Most Domesticated ducks are descended from the wild Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. How these birds look is dictated by phases and patterns. The Trout colour, seen in Runners and the Rouen Clair only differs from the wild colour through being light phase. The duck’s plumage resembles a brown trout Salmo trutta. The light phase gene not only affects the body feathers but also the border of the Speculum feathers. On close inspection the secondary coverts have fine white tips, unlike dark phase birds such as a Mallard coloured Rouen (duck) or Call duck, which should have a clear black border above & below the speculum. Trout Runner duck bred by Thomas Moody.
The size and clarity of the speculum or mirror is affected by species and breed: Brazilian Teal, Wild Mallard, Bronze-winged Duck and the domestic Trout Runner
Bread or no bread? - 6th August 2019Debates rage about whether we should feed bread to waterfowl in public places. In times of hardship, bread is certainly better than starving, however there are better alternatives.
Many people gain their first exposure to waterfowl feeding ducks at a local park or river, and from there a love is kindled. Just like us, ducks need a varied diet to be healthy. We suggest that it would be better to provide more natural foodstuffs; such as whole grains (wheat, corn, peas, or cooked rice) or shredded greens like spinach, lettuce and rocket. Even though it seems kind in the short term, continuously feeding wild birds in this situation can be disadvantageous for them in the long run. It sustains an artificially high population, which then becomes reliant on feeding to survive. High concentrations of food and birds makes them more at risk to disease and parasites. This can also allow (often non-native) vermin to boom. Unnaturally high numbers of waterfowl can have negative effects on their environment (e.g. water quality and plant and invertebrate life). Birds which are fed sometimes change their behaviour because of it (e.g. not migrating), and fail to disperse naturally.
On balance, we’d recommend that if you’re going to do it, do so occasionally, and preferably with food that’s still edible, but that would otherwise be wasted. Transforming biodiverse habitats around the world into monocultures of crops, then distributing them using fossil fuels is likely to be having a far greater negative effect on waterfowl than the benefit to the relatively small number of them that rely on us for food.
Feral Greylag Geese abound on the River Bure
Reflecting Well - 22nd July 2019Many of you have commented how nice it would be to have a good reference for more of the waterfowl we keep. We are working on a website upgrade and soon we’ll have just that. We need good images which show the identifying features of the birds. Particularly the species and breeds less commonly kept. Can you help us out? We’ll soon have a Member Photo Gallery too, so please get snapping!
White-faced Whistling Ducks - lovely in a group
Passing of a legend - farewell to Christopher Marler - 16th July 2019We are sad to report that Patron and past President (twice), Christopher Marler passed away last week. This comes as a huge shock to his many friends in the waterfowl world, who will wish to express immense sadness that one of the great figures in aviculture has left us.
During Christopher’s time with the Association he distinguished himself amongst members with his kind and enthusiastic manner. Ever ready to regale a tale and share his passion for breeding the very best stock, he set many on the path to do the same. Some may not realise that our fine organisation may not even exist today had he not put his faith and backing into keeping the BWA afloat when times were hard. Our members will remember him with respect and admiration and he will be missed by all.
Christopher’s good humour could lighten a room. As well as making everyone feel valued, his advice and sensible perspectives kept us connected, by our mutual love of waterfowl.
We will all mourn the loss of one of life’s true gentlemen. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family who may draw some comfort from knowing the special place he had in many of our hearts.
Christopher Marler; stockman, judge, gentleman and friend.
Keep cool, and carry on - 10th July 2019Parts of the country are having warmer weather and the Arctic species will appreciate a cooling stream of water. Things that give birds some entertainment are interesting to watch and enrich their lives. Ice cubes in the water are sometimes appreciated too. Although some species will seek out shade, the eiders often do not seem to and will sit in the sun panting. In extreme heat it may be necessary to bring them under cover to keep them comfortable. Click the image to play a movie. A larger version of the movie (6.81MB) can be downloaded and played here.
Parent rear or hatch in the incubator? - 30th June 2019Parent rearing in a mixed collection can work really well if the stocking density is not too high. In fact, parent-reared geese tend to fare better as the balance of power tips in their favour. You’ll need to make sure the parents feel safe showing the youngsters where to feed. It can be a problem when other birds associate you with the ducklings and a free meal. Lifting the mother and brood from the nest into a separate pen should only be done where she cannot see where she came from, as she will pace the wire trying to get “home”. The ducklings will instinctively follow but will be worn out and trampled. Once the young hatch it is not so easy to swap from one regime to the other, so we suggest you plan ahead. Of course, if you made a mistake with the dates, the choice will be made for you!
Mother Bufflehead leads her new brood
The show season isn’t so far away! - 19th June 2019It does not seem long since Tilly looked the Indian Runner Ducks in the eye, but now she's getting ready for the show season.
How are you doing? Our Champion Waterfowl Exhibition on 3rd November at Stratford Park Leisure Centre Stroud is not to be missed - everyone welcome! The schedule can be downloaded here and a hard copy will be sent out with the summer edition of Waterfowl if you have exhibited with us before. The entry form can be downloaded here.
Young exhibitor Tilly is rightly proud of her birds
Not all is black and white - 10th June 2019African Black Duck Anas sparsa, Black Swans Cygnus atratus, Black-necked Swans Cygnus melancoryphus, white Call ducks and Cape Teal Anas capensis all growing well at Smiths Nurseries last month. In the third stage of rearing, young birds appreciate the space to roam on grass and feel the sun on their backs. Click the image to play a movie. A larger version of the movie (5.19MB) can be downloaded and played here.
Bird of the Month - 1st June 2019June is the month of the Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus. This charming bird breeds in a discontinuous narrow band across Arctic Eurasia. You can distinguish it from the White-fronted Goose A. albifrons at all ages by its darker and overall daintier appearance; also the rounded head, small bill and yellow orbital ring. When adult, the white at the base of the bill extends all the way to the top of the crown. This goose is globally threatened, listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.
Diligent mother - Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus - photo by Barry Nicolle
Hide the fence! - 26th May 2019Many of our members are keen and skilful gardeners. Keeping your birds in a garden setting is very pleasing to the eye. Perimeter netting is never pretty but some plants lend themselves to growing up a vertical surface. Ceanothus is a good choice and it has been looking very good this year. The bees love it! Also known as Californian Lilac, Ceanothus is an evergreen shrub, hardy in most parts of the country. It tolerates pruning and is easily trained along a fence. Several varieties have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, so you know they will be “good doers”.
Ceanothus “Puget Blue” performs well every year
Double blue dilution - 17th May 2019Apricot Trout is a double blue dilution on the light phase wild type Mallard. The colour possibilities of Mallard ducks and their (domesticated) descendants are the same, regardless of the breed. Around half of the standardised colour varieties are influenced by the action of blue or brown alleles. These work to dilute one of the base patterns which are dark phase, light phase and harlequin phase. We have standardised the use of the names Blue, Apricot, Brown and Buff to describe the action of the three dilution alleles on each base pattern, making colour breeding clearer and understandable for all.
Isn't it fascinating that at such a young age, this duckling has that characteristic Indian runner stance? Maybe we will see it in a few months at our Champion Waterfowl Exhibition at Stroud on Sunday 3rd November.
Apricot Trout Runner duckling
Cute but not so cuddly - 9th May 2019Bronze-winged Ducks Speculanas specularis have some of the most appealing ducklings, but caution, the adults can be very aggressive. Breeding pairs are best segregated from a mixed collection. Also known as the Spectacled Duck, it is a dabbling duck in a genus of its own, the closest relatives are thought to be the Crested Duck Lophonetta specularioides and the Brazilian Duck Amazonetta brasiliensis. You will find many textbooks placing it in the genus Anas, along with most other dabbling ducks.
Looks can be deceptive
With a little help from our friends… - 28th April 2019
Project Laysan Duck
We are ready to send out sampling packs, will you help us find fundraisers?
Tests will be free to BWA members but there will be a small charge to non-members. We know that not everyone is in a position to pay, but we hope that you can contribute something by sharing our invitation and putting us in touch with like-minded people. If you have sold Laysan Ducks to others, we would still like to hear from them even though their birds are related to yours. They will have other contacts who may wish to be involved. We won't be sharing any personal details with anyone outside the admin team.
Sign up through our landing page here.
Click the image below to download and play a movie of Laysan Ducks (7.25MB).
Click the image below to go to Project Laysan Duck 'GoFundMe'.
It’s all in the Genes - 25th April 2019One of the key features of the Silver Appleyard duck's colour pattern is the 'Mohawk' stripe and dark tail on the ducklings. These characteristics come from the colour genes, irrespective of the 'type' (shape) of the duck.
Reginald Appleyard spent most of his life breeding and rearing waterfowl. His advice from the 1930s is true today: 'Know your birds, learn stock sense, use your eyes all the time. To know each individual bird, its ways and characteristics is invaluable to success in breeding.'
The Silver Appleyard duck's colour pattern is thought to be down to a combination of light phase (li) and restricted mallard (Mᴿ), plus additional face markings which are independent of these genes.
The 'Mohawk' stripe in a Silver Appleyard-coloured duckling.
Welcome to the World! - 12th April 2019Waterfowl hatch with a covering of down and with their eyes open. They can walk and swim fairly soon after hatching and these are known as precocial species. Many make calls to one another from inside the egg. The amount of contact varies from species to species, whistling ducks being particularly vocal. The calling begins a day or two before hatching and is thought to help synchronise the process. Nobody wants to be left behind! Click the image to play a movie. A larger version of the movie (29.7MB) can be downloaded and played here.
Remembering Dick the Drake - 3rd April 2019Who knew that William Hogarth had a pet drake? The half-acre walled garden at Hogarth's House in Chiswick, West London is being redesigned, to tell its story in planting and design features such as a skittle ground, nut-walk and pet memorials. A handsome new learning centre and the garden will open to visitors in autumn 2019.
A surprising amount of information about the garden survives. Beginning as a 1670s orchard, it is now a museum commemorating artist William Hogarth (1697-1764). One of F W Fairholt's sketches, published in 1853, shows two touching memorials to Hogarth family pets, though when the House opened to visitors in 1904 these had disappeared.
Hogarth was rarely seen without his robust pug dog at his heels and his prints show his abhorrence of cruelty to animals. Fairholt's careful sketch depicts a stone for Pompey who died in 1790, probably a lapdog owned by Hogarth's widow. A closer look reveals that the older stone has a carved long-beaked skull and crossed wishbones for Dick who died in 1760, aged 11 years. Is this the oldest known memorial to a duck? Maybe Hogarth himself carved it to commemorate his long-lived pet drake? Dick might have lived in the orchard, with a small flock of ducks laying eggs for the family.
The William Hogarth Trust (WHT)) aims to raise £2,200 for the memorials through a crowd-funding scheme at www.spacehive.com/commemorating-hogarth-pets. Donations can also be sent to the WHT c/o 25 Hartington Road, London W4 3TL. All donors will be invited to a special celebration in the autumn.
Drawing credit: Chiswick Local Studies Library (LB Hounslow)
Could you champion the Abacot Ranger duck? - 26th March 2019The Abacot Ranger is currently on the Watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Do you keep them and are you willing to learn more about becoming the Breed Registrar? If so, please see our 'Duck Breeds Registrar Scheme' here.
The Abacot Ranger was one of many breeds developed from (or crossed with) Indian Runners, starting with 'sports' from Khaki Campbells. Originally called the 'Hooded Ranger', this breed almost died out in this country. Imported into Germany via Denmark in 1926, it was 'stabilized' as a colour form by H. Lieker, whence it acquired the name 'Liekers Streifere' (Lieker's Ranger or Scout). In 1934 it was eventually standardized under the name of Streicher-Ente (Ranger Duck). Later standardized by the Poultry Club and the BWA in 1987, the modern Abacot Ranger owes both its survival and written standard to the work done in Germany. Like other light ducks, this breed is lively and active and a good forager, and also a good egg layer, producing a reasonable sized egg.
Lively Abacot Ranger ducklings
Egg development - 22nd March 2019Do you candle your eggs? For a four-week incubation period this is roughly what you would expect to see. The heart is the first organ to develop, surrounded by a growing network of blood vessels. The weight of the developing egg decreases through evaporation by about 15% by hatching, so the air sac gets bigger. Some waterfowl eggs have thick shells and the detail is very difficult to see, but LED lights have made the process of candling much easier than it was in the past.
The ideal relative humidity for incubating most duck eggs is 55%. The temperature is usually 37.4°C. As the duckling develops there is a loss of water from the egg and the air sac gets bigger. In the normal development of an egg with a 28 day incubation, the air sac occupies about a third of it by 25 days. Cleanliness is vital and ideally eggs should be moved to a separate hatcher at this point, where the humidity should be increased to 65% and even higher once they have pipped internally.
Parent birds manage it so well! If you are new to wildfowl, you should check how long your species' incubation periods are, or you may get a surprise sooner than you expect…
The eggs of geese are more difficult to candle than those of ducks as the shells are much thicker. Artificial incubation is therefore harder to manage. The main problem is ensuring adequate water loss through them so that the air space is large enough that the gosling has enough room to manoeuvre into a hatching position. If too wet, the gosling is large, weak and floppy and often dies before hatching. The air space always seems to be amazingly (even alarmingly!) large in eggs incubated by a goose.
Rather than specify a particular humidity, it is probably more helpful to weigh the eggs and monitor how the weight loss progresses, aiming for at least 15% loss over the incubation period. Different incubator designs vary in their capacity to achieve this, but it would generally be necessary to have a lower humidity than for duck eggs, perhaps running the incubator completely dry. The humidity in the room is also going to affect evaporation through the shell.
Embryo development in a 28 day incubation period
A duck without freckles is like a night without stars… - 16th March 2019Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa are semi-tropical ducks and are Australia’s rarest waterfowl, fond of inland swamps. When these dry out in the summer months, the Freckled Ducks are forced to disperse towards coastal and subcoastal wetlands. They favour loafing amongst fallen timber in swamps. Sometimes, if there is a drought, there may be few of these wetlands available for them, so they may congregate into flocks on whatever wetlands are available, sometimes giving the impression that they are more common than they really are. They are stimulated to breed by rainfall and food availability. There was great excitement here about these ducks in the 1980s, when they were near-impossible to find. WWT Slimbridge is credited with having the first self-sustaining breeding population in Europe, and numbers have held strong since. A small handful of private breeders are successful with Frecs. These are pretty charismatic birds and can be challenging to rear so not really a beginner species. We recommend visiting a breeder and finding out about the life cycle and requirements before purchasing any new species. The difficulty of breeding is usually reflected in the purchase price! Click the image to play a movie. A larger version of the movie (25.74MB) can be downloaded and played here.
Green is the new black - 11th March 2019Black East Indian ducks being exhibited these days have amazing green iridescence. The very best show-winning birds frequently even have a green sheen under the wings. There is no hiding the heritage: impure birds can show a little brown pencilling under the wings and also on the throat. Even in pure birds, females tend to develop patches of white as they get older. Don't we all!
The iridescence comes from the way light is reflected from the structure of the feathers, rather than a pigment. The base colour of the Black East Indian is black. There is speculation that the extended black gene that this and the Cayuga share, may have arrived from a close relative of Mallard ducks; the American Black Duck Anas rubripes. This is the bold assertion of early historians of the Cayuga.
A stunning Black East Indian drake exhibited by James Eggins
Family Ties in our bird of the month - 9th March 2019This Nene Goose family are very close. They hatched under the mother and both parents were very attentive. The three goslings are very much imprinted on their parents. Imprinting is a specialised form of learning that happens in very young birds so they develop a strong irreversible attachment to their parent(s). Imprinting is only possible during an extremely limited ”critical period” soon after hatching. This phenomenon has been closely studied in waterfowl, particularly since the work of Konrad Lorenz last century. While the process of imprinting has a huge effect on wild hatchling survival, getting captive wildfowl to imprint on us for our own pleasure is not necessarily the best approach to give them enriching lives. We gain their love and devotion, but at the expense of allowing them a natural relationship with one of their own kind. Imprinting affects different species in different ways.
A parent-reared group of Nene Geese, Branta sandvicensis
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides - 3rd March 2019
The Swan Goose Anser cygnoides, from Central Asia, is the ancestor of both African Geese and Chinese Geese. The painting by Carl Donner is of an African Goose, and appeared in the 1999 edition of British Waterfowl Standards - this and the current edition are available from the bookshop here. The breeds that originate in Europe are descended from the wild Greylag.
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides
African Goose painting by Carl Donner
Bird of the Month is the Nene Goose Branta sandvicensis - 1st March 2019Bird of the Month is the Nene Goose Branta sandvicensis. Photo below by Phoebe Vaughan. This species captured public imagination when Sir Peter Scott spearheaded a captive breeding programme to save it. The world population had plummeted to fewer than 30 birds. Their offspring give pleasure to thousands of enthusiasts and prove that it is never too late to act!
Nene Goose and goslings
BWA AGM at Slimbridge - 23rd February 2019
A very successful AGM for us today and congratulations to Marie Zabell for winning the Wildfowl Achievement Award; Trudy Robertson for winning the Wildfowl Contribution Award; Margaret Richards for winning the Diamond Jubilee Award; Phoebe Vaughan for winning the Leslie Bonnet Award; and Oliver Crump (see photo below) for winning the Mike Griffiths Memorial Award. Thanks to Taiana Costa for the very informative talk “Healthy bird, happy bird”.
Congratulations to Oliver Crump - winner of the Mike Griffiths Award for Junior Exhibitor.