1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pochard

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POCHARD, Pockard, or Poker,[1] names properly belonging to the male of a species of duck (the female of which is known as the Dunbird), the Anas ferina of Linnaeus, and Nyroca ferina of later ornithologists—but names very often applied by writers in a general way to most of the group or sub-family Fuligulinae, commonly called Diving or Sea-Ducks (see Duck). The Pochard in full plumage is a very handsome bird, with a coppery-red head, on the sides of which sparkle the ruby irides of his eyes, relieved by the greyish-blue of the basal half of his broad bill, and the deep black of his breast, while his back and flanks appear of a light grey, being really of a dull white closely barred by fine undulating black lines. The tail-coverts both above and below are black, the quill feathers brownish-black, and the lower surface of a dull white. The Dunbird has the head and neck reddish-brown, with ill-defined whitish patches on the cheeks and chin; the back and upper tail-coverts are dull brown, and the rest of the plumage, except the lower tail-coverts, which are brownish-grey, resembles that of the Pochard. This species is very abundant in many parts of Europe, northern Asia, and North America, generally frequenting in winter the larger open waters, and extending its migrations to Barbary and Egypt, but in summer retiring northward and inland to breed. The American Pochard is slightly larger, has yellow eyes, and is now regarded as specifically distinct under the name of Nyroca americana; but America has a perfectly distinct though allied species in the celebrated canvas-back duck, N. vallisneria, a much larger bird, with a longer, higher and narrower bill, which has no blue at the base, and, though the plumage of both, especially in the females, is very similar, the male canvas-back has a darker head, and the black lines on the back and flanks are much broken up and farther asunder, so that the effect is to give these parts a much lighter colour, and from this has arisen the bird's common though fanciful name. Its scientific epithet is derived from the fresh-water plant, a species of Vallisneria, usually known as “wild celery,” from feeding on which its flesh is believed to acquire the delicate flavour that is held in so great a repute. The Pochard and Dunbird in Europe are in much request for the table (as the German name of the species, Tafelente, testifies) when they frequent fresh-water; birds killed on the seacoast are so rank as to be almost worthless.

Among other species nearly allied to the Pochard that frequent the northern hemisphere may be mentioned the Scaup-Duck, Fuligula marila, with its American representative F. affinis, in both of which the male has the head black, glossed with blue or green; but these are nearly always uneatable from the nature of their food, which is mostly gathered at low tide on the “scaups” or “scalps,”—as the banks on which mussels and other marine molluscs grow are in many places termed. Then there are the Tufted Duck, F. cristata—black with a crest and white flanks—and its American equivalent F. collaris, and the White-eyed Pochard, F. nyroca, and the Red-crested Pochard, F. rufina—both peculiar to the Old World, and well known in India. In the southern hemisphere the genus is represented by three species, F. capensis, F. australis and F. novae-zealandiae, whose respective names indicate the country each inhabits, and in South America exists a somewhat divergent form which has been placed in a distinct genus as Metopiana peposaca.

Generally classed with the Fuligulinae is the small group known as the Eiders, which differ from them in several respects: the bulb at the base of the trachea in the male, so largely developed in the members of the genus Fuligula, is here much smaller and wholly of bone; the males take a much longer time, two or even three years, to attain their full plumage, and some of the feathers on the head, when that plumage is completed, are always stiff, glistening and of a peculiar pale-green colour. This little group of hardly more than half a dozen species may be fairly considered to form a separate genus under the name of Somateria. Many authors indeed have—unjustifiably, as it seems to the present writer—broken it up into three or four genera. The well-known Eider, S. mollissima, is the largest of this group, and, beautiful as it is, is excelled in beauty by the King-Duck, S. spectabilis, and the little S. stelleri. A most interesting form generally, but obviously in error, placed among them, is the Logger-head, Racehorse or Steamer-Duck, Micropterus (or more probably Tachyeres) cinereus of Chile, the Falkland Islands and Straits of Magellan—nearly as large as a tame goose, and subject to the, so far as known, unique peculiarity of losing its power of flight after reaching maturity. Its habits have been well described by C. Darwin in his Journal of Researches, and its anatomy is the subject of an excellent paper in the Zoological Society's Transactions (vii. 493-501, pls. lviii.-lxii.) by R. O. Cunningham.

(A. N.).

  1. The derivation of these words, in the first of which the ch is pronounced hard (though Dr Johnson made it soft), and the o in all of them generall long, is very uncertain. Cotgrave has pocheculier (modern French poche-cuillier), which he renders “Shoueler,” nowadays the name of a kind of duck, but in his time meaning the bird we commonly call Spoonbill (q.v.). Littré gives pochard as a popular French word signifying drunkard.