Pink-headed Duck

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Common Name: Pink-headed Duck
Scientific Name: Rhodonessa caryophyllacea

Size: 16-17 inches (41-43 cm); Wingspan: 23.5 inches (60 cm)

Habitat: Asia; it was found in Asia; locally distributed in the wetlands of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and occurred rarely in Nepal, with most records from north-east India and adjacent Bangladesh.

It was shy and secretive, inhabiting secluded and overgrown still-water pools, marshes and swamps in lowland forests and tall grasslands, particularly areas subject to seasonal inundation and, in winter, it was also found in lagoons adjoining large rivers. Outside the breeding season, it was usually encountered in small groups and occasionally flocks of 30-40. Some, and possibly all, populations undertook local seasonal movements, resulting in scattered historical records as far afield as Punjab, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in India.

Status: Presumed Extinct. Global population: 0 adult individuals It was always considered uncommon or rare and was last definitely seen in the wild in 1949, surviving until around the same time in captivity. Its decline likely resulted from habitat loss, as clearance of forest and conversion of wetlands for agricultural use had destroyed much of its habitat. Furthermore, it suffered year-round persecution during a period (the late 19th and early 20th centuries) when hunting levels in India were high. A number of other waterfowl species have declined in South and South-East Asia as a consequence of human disturbance and/or hunting pressure and egg collection. However, these species, e.g. White-winged Duck (Cairinia scutulata), do persist in parts of South and South-East Asia, suggesting that hunting pressure alone is unlikely to have caused the species’ extirpation. The invasive alien species water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) may have contributed to its decline by altering wetland habitats to the detriment of this species.

Recent "sightings" and positive leads from a series of questionnaires about its possible continued existence in north-east India were the result of confusion with the Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina). Five searches in Kachin State, Myanmar, between April 2003 and December 2006 gained a possible sighting (in 2004), with two credible reports from local fishermen and during the 2006 survey, focused at Nawng Kwin and the grasslands and oxbow lakes along the Indawgyi River, the team gathered the most convincing reports to date, from a local fisherman, that the species still occurs in the area. Further searches took place in January 2008 in northern Kachin State, focusing on the three sites from which there had been recent reports or claims, but the team failed to find convincing evidence of the species’ continued existence there.

Diet: Water plants and mollusks. Their feeding behavior was more like other dabbling duck species; typically up-ending or dabbling on the water surface for food, rather than diving like a pochard.

Nesting: Males had a deep pink head and neck, blackish-brown center of throat, fore neck and most of remaining plumage. They had a rosy-pinkish bill. In flight, pale brownish-buff secondaries with a narrow, whitish leading edge to wing-coverts and pale pink underwing were visible.

Females had a duller, browner body, pale greyish-pink head and upper neck, with brownish wash on the crown, the hind neck and a duller bill.

Juveniles had a duller brown body than the female, with fine, whitish feather fringes.

Males uttered a weak whistle, females a low quack.

Its breeding habitat was lowland marshes and pools in tall-grass jungle. The nest was built amongst grass. The eggs, 6-7 in a clutch, were very spherical and creamy white. The eggs measured 1.71 to 1.82 inches long and 1.61 to 1.7 inches wide.

Cool Facts: Conjecture from researchers conducting surveys for the species has suggested that it may have been nocturnal, explaining the difficulty in locating it, and the reason behind its unique coloration. They were believed to have been non-migratory and found singly or in pairs and very rarely in small groups.

A study found that Rhodonessa was a close relative to the Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) suggesting that the two species be placed in the same genus. Rhodonessa was described prior to Netta which would then make Rhodonessa rufina the name of choice, however these changes have not been widely accepted.

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume II: Diving and Sea Ducks

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