During a wander through the Lake Borrie Wetlands near Melbourne with photographer Leanne Cole, we spotted an odd looking and very distinctive waterbird: the Pink-Eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus). This unmistakeable and spectacular duck, so different looking to any other, had to take pride of place as the star of #12 Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?
The Pink-Eared Duck is a small duck, about 36 to 40cms, with a huge square-tipped beak and striped sides. It is very quirky! It has a large brown patch around his eye and the drake has a small spot of pink feathers behind the eye which gives it its name. What is most noticeable about this duck though, is the zebra like striping – fine around the face, bold on the flanks. The upper parts of the wings are brown, whereas the underwings are white, barred dark brown. When seen in flight, the tail tip and trailing edge of the wings are white, as is a narrow crescent-shaped band on the rump.
Did you know?
The duck’s odd shaped bill evolved to feed in a specialized manner. Water is sucked through the bill tip, and then expelled through soft grooves along the side of the beak, filtering through microscopic plants and animals in the process. The scientific name Malacorhynchus actually means “soft beak”.
How does it behave?
The Pink-Eared Duck is often seen perching out of the water, on logs or branches as shown in this photo. It feeds in shallow waters on tiny invertebrates, crustaceans and insects. It prefers stagnant water, rich in aquatic life. It is a filter feeder, using its bill to strain minute organisms. It can also feed by creating a vortex: two ducks spin around a central point with the tail of one opposite the head of the other, concentrating food in a rotating water column. Unlike other ducks, it does not up-end at all.
Breeding can happen any time during the year and is dependent on flood waters. Male and female Pink-Eared Ducks form life-long bonds. The female incubate the eggs and both parents raise the young.
Where is it found?
Endemic to Australia, the Pink-Eared Duck is found in inland swamps where huge flocks can assemble. It tends to avoid coastal wetlands with high rainfall. It is a nomadic specie, and is very mobile, flying large distances in search of water. There can be hundreds of these ducks in one location one day, and they can be gone the next. The photos were taken at the Lake Borrie Wetlands in February this year, using a Canon 60D camera and EF100-400L lens. This was a new sighting for me. I had never seen these ducks before. As usual, click on the first image to display the gallery in full screen slide show.