The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 713/Breeding of the Tufted Duck (‘’Fuligula cristata’’) in Shropshire, Forrest

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Breeding of the Tufted Duck (‘’Fuligula cristata’’) in Shropshire  (1900) 
by Herbert Edward Forrest

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 4 (1900), issue 713 (Nov), p. 506–510.


By H.E. Forrest.

The late Mr. W.E. Beckwith says of this species:—"The Tufted Duck is rather common on pools in Shropshire in winter, being often found with Pochards, and, though the females or young birds are always much more plentiful than the handsome adult males, I frequently see the latter on the Ellesmere meres. About the year 1855 a pair of Tufted Ducks bred near Shifnal, and several pairs now breed regularly in that neighbourhood. I have also seen one with young ones in June on a pool near Shrewsbury; and, in the summer of 1885, I saw a pair of Tufted Ducks, but without young, on Whitemere, near Ellesmere. Except in hard frost, this Duck is not often seen on the Severn."—The 'Field,' Dec. 19th, 1885.

Mr. W.H. Slaney writes that "the bird is common on the large meres of Stafford and Shropshire [in winter], and that he has known of one nest in the latter county."—A.G. More, "On the distribution of birds in Great Britain during nesting season," 'Ibis,' 1865. The nest mentioned is the one at Shifnal alluded to above. Col. Kenyon Slaney informs me that he thinks the nest was at Hatton, Shifnal. There have been one or two nests there during the last few years; the birds probably belong to the larger colony at Weston, to be next described.

Col. the Hon. F.O. Bridgeman informs me that at Weston Park, the Earl of Bradford's estate on the borders of Stafford and Shropshire, the Tufted Duck has bred regularly ever since 1880. Its numbers have steadily increased, till now there are about twenty pairs nesting on five or six pools. The birds here have lost the migratory habit, and become residents, although, like other Anatidæ, the Tufted Duck is normally a winter migrant; even here the colony in winter is increased by visitors.

On January 4th, this year, when visiting Ellesmere mere, in company with Mr. Brownlow Tower, I saw about two hundred of these pretty birds swimming about. They are reputed to be very wild and wary, but, at Ellesmere, being carefully protected, they are unusually tame, and will often come within twenty yards of the observer. Like other diving Ducks, they sit low in the water. They are energetic divers; and the drake is a handsome bird, conspicuous at a distance, and easily distinguished by his white flanks and black back. The female is of a dark brown hue. Mr. Tower, who has observed the birds on the meres continuously for many years, tells me that, although the Tufted Duck visits Ellesmere regularly every winter in large numbers, not a single pair has ever been known to remain to breed. This is the more remarkable as there are so many suitable meres there, and they breed at Sandford only eight miles away.

Messrs. Coward and Oldham, in their new book on the 'Birds of Cheshire' (1900), also state that the Tufted Duck has not been known to breed in Cheshire, though suitable nesting places are abundant in that county.

At Sandford Pool, near Whitchurch, Salop, close to the Cheshire border, four pairs of Tufted Ducks came and nested in 1891, in the reedy marsh at the northern end, and they have continued to do so ever since. Strange to say, there have always been neither more nor less than four pairs, while—unlike the Weston Park birds—they have not become residents. They arrive each year early in March; nest towards the end of May; and leave, with the young, about the beginning of November. The young birds, which number about thirty each year, do not return to their native pool. There is no apparent reason why the birds should not winter here, and so become residents, as at Weston. We can only surmise that the hereditary instinct is so strong that, when the usual time of migration arrives, they feel impelled to depart, though they might just as well stay where they spent the summer. Although I have no proof to give, I fancy that the Ducks at Sandford only go away as far as Ellesmere, and join company with the crowds that are migrating just at that time. If so, the four pairs at Sandford are probably the same individuals year after year, whilst their progeny—instead of returning with them to Sandford—depart northwards with their Ellesmere companions.

We find, then, that the Tufted Ducks at—

Ellesmere are winter visitors only.

Wishing to observe these Ducks in their breeding haunts, I this year paid two visits to Sandford Pool, by kind invitation of Mrs. Sandford. The first visit was on May 10th, when all eight birds—four drakes and four ducks—were swimming about on the open water; apparently not yet nesting, [Subsequent events showed that the Ducks had already laid eggs, and they began to sit within the following week.]

On the pool was a Swan's nest, containing seven cygnets, and two eggs just hatching—an unusually large clutch—all afterwards reared successfully. I obtained several excellent photographs of these cygnets in the nest. On the approach of the punt, the mother Swan, who was sitting, got up and slipped into the water, where, joining her mate, the pair swam round in circles, only betraying wrath at the intrusion by an occasional hiss. This rather belies the reputed ferocity of the Swan in the breeding season.

Three weeks later the keeper at Sandford reported that he had found a Tufted Duck's nest with eggs, so on June 1st I paid a second visit to the pool. This time there were no drakes to be seen, but there was one duck swimming about. The eggs in the nest found by the keeper had hatched out the day before my visit, and both ducks and ducklings had disappeared. However, after a long search, the keeper found another nest with eight eggs in it. Of this I obtained a good photograph. Soon afterwards I found another nest with eggs, and an empty nest which appeared to have been vacated for some days. Close to this last was an egg which had evidently rolled out of the nest, for, when blown, it proved not to have been incubated. Thus all four nests belonging to the four pairs of ducks were accounted for—two with eggs in, and two hatched out.

The nests are hard to find, for they are placed on marshy ground beneath, and entirely concealed by, dead reeds and rushes. They are made of rushes in the form of a mound, with a deep cup in the centre. The cup is lined with down, intermixed with fragments of dead rushes. The down is very dark brown, with a dirty white fleck in the centre of each bit. It is larger than Teal's down, and the fleck is not nearly so conspicuous or white. The eggs in the nest photographed were greenish, but in the second nest, off which I flushed the old duck, they were coloured like a Pheasant's. The solitary egg was of the latter type.

image of Nest of Tufted Duck

Nest of Tufted Duck (Fuligula cristata).

When the duck leaves the nest to feed—and she is then away for an hour or more at a time—she carefully covers the eggs with down. The duck which I saw swimming on the pool was the owner of the nest photographed, yet, although she had been absent for nearly an hour by the keeper's observation, the eggs were quite warm. In order to photograph the nest it was necessary to push the rushes over it to right and left, as well as to remove the covering of down.

The ducklings, before they are twenty-four hours old, take to the water and go off with the mother. For the first week or so they keep hidden away amongst the rushes, &c, but afterwards appear on the open water, swimming about with the mother. They never return to the nest after once quitting it—not even to roost.

The drakes, as soon as their mates begin to sit, spend a good deal of their time at their "club"—a pool about half a mile away. They condescend to return to their families later on, when the latter are growing up, but they take no part in the sitting, nor in feeding the spouse on the nest, nor do they ever help to feed or look after the young. In short, they are not at all patterns of marital behaviour.

Although the pool at Sandford is private, and the ducks have never been molested, they are very shy, and would never allow me to get near enough with the camera to take a snap-shot of them on the water. They would rise while still sixty or eighty yards away, and, after flying round in wide circles for some minutes, alight on a distant part of the pool.

Since penning the foregoing notes I have heard from Col. Kenyon Slaney that the Tufted Duck still breeds at Hatton Grange, and has done so almost every year as far back as he can remember. The water there is but small, and only one, or perhaps two, pairs nest on it. Practically the Hatton birds belong to the Weston colony, although the founders appear to have settled first at Hatton, and thence to have colonized Weston.