Ducks are one of the easiest birds to find, particularly if you are near water.
This year, however, duck numbers in the Hunter have been lower than in other years and it has been assumed that due to the good rain creating more favourable conditions, many had gone inland to breed.
In recent weeks, there has been a noticeable return of some ducks, Chestnut Teal in particular. I was also very pleased to find a few teal with newly hatched ducklings, even though it is a little late in the season. Their breeding season is July to January.
A teal is a type of dabbling duck, which means they up-end in the water to feed. This is amusing to watch as the upside-down ducks "pedal" with their feet to reach a deeper morsel of food.
Chestnut Teal are very handsome birds, in particular the male of the species. They have a dark green, almost black feathered head with a red eye and a mottled chestnut-brown body. The female in contrast has mottled brown, white-edged feathers and a red eye with a dark eye stripe.
They are found in SE and SW coastal areas of Australia and although reasonably common, their numbers have reduced drastically in the last 20 years.
- Red-rumped Parrots, common in open woodland
- Unmistakable and raucous, they carry on like galahs
- White-fronted Terns, a great spectacle
- Tawny Frogmouth, the native with an ideal disguise
- A lovely walk in the rain at Walka
- The White bellied Sea Eagle, a magnificent raptor
- Spotted Pardalote, the little guy that's hard to spot
This decline has been caused by increasing developments in their favoured habitat, pollution of waterways and in Victoria culling by shooting. The biggest threat is perhaps introduced foxes which predate both the ducklings and adult birds.
Nests are constructed in long grass near water, in tree hollows and amongst rocks on the banks of swamps and estuaries. Clutch size is large with on average 12 eggs being laid, although up to 17 have been recorded. There is also evidence of occasional "dump laying" where females leave their eggs in another female's nest.
The ducklings walk and swim within 24 hours of hatching. Many do not survive, and it is not unusual to see the number of ducklings successfully raised to be reduced to 2 or 3. The adult birds are monogamous and stay together all year.
Chestnut Teal can tolerate high-salinity water but still need fresh water to drink. They eat aquatic vegetation, seeds, and insects, and in coastal areas, crustaceans, and molluscs.
A pair of Chestnut Teal have a family of eight ducklings at Morpeth Common. I will have to keep an eye on their development.
Hunter Bird Observers Club: www.hboc.org.au