Aylmerton Nature Diary

Tuesday afternoon


I was up at the allotment (and my bird information pager on the dining room table!) when the news came through of a White Stork seen over Cromer and heading for Felbrigg!! By the time I found out and got myself  down to the park the bird had, presumably, long since gone. As far as I’m aware there haven’t been any records of this species at Felbrigg (anyone knowing different, please do contact me) but amazingly, there is a record of Black Stork – considerably rarer, back in 1999.

In the aftermath of this excitement, I was standing on the path which crosses the top sluice, looking over the water meadow, when I noticed a brown duck in the distance with a tightly clustered group of baby chicks. Hurray I thought, my first record of breeding Mallard for the year. As the female and her brood of twelve came closer I realised that something wasn’t quite right. This female wasn’t a Mallard, it was more like a Shoveler – but something didn’t look right for that species either. Consensus amongst a group of local birders in the evening was that it was one of those dreaded hybrids! I attach a couple of photos and would be very pleased to receive comments or opinions from anyone as to the true identity of this bird. What is perhaps equally surprising as the event itself is how, at one of the busiest bird-watching times of the year, this bird had previously gone unnoticed. I attached a few photos of the bird in question and her rapidly diminishing brood of twelve:





2 thoughts on “Tuesday afternoon

  1. Hi Trevor, here are some thoughts on your putative Mallard x Shoveler hybrid from someone who takes an unhealthy interest in such things…

    Firstly I acknowledge that I’m only working from your 3 photos so don’t have the benefit of seeing the bird in the flesh like you did. So when you say the bird was more like a Shoveler than a Mallard I realise there might be more to it than is apparent from the photos which, to my eye look considerably more like a Mallard than a Shoveler. But either way, I agree something looks a little odd about the bill.

    In the first photo with the bill turned away slightly, it looks most Mallard-like. Near the tip there seems to be an abnormal small long-oval shaped bulge either on the lower mandible or hanging from the edge of the upper mandible, but this is discrete, appearing as if it is not part of the basic bill structure. Perhaps a deformity but much more likely a drop of muddy water. Note that the line you can see along the lower edge of the upper mandible (separating the orange cutting edge from the dark centre near the base) continues forward to the tip of the bill with no hint of a bulge or lateral extension. The bulge I describe above is nearer the tip than the lateral extensions of a Shoveler bill but it does create the impression of an unusual bill shape.

    In the other two photos there seems to be a lateral extension further up the bill which indeed recalls Shoveler to an extent. Compared to the first photo this is not only further up the bill but also smoother, less like a drip, and looking more like an extension of the sides of the upper mandible as you might expect on a Shoveler hybrid. But note here that in both the photos the bill is very wet – lots of shine and reflections all over the bill and even the feathering at the base of the bill. The bird has clearly been feeding recently and the water has not yet finished running off the bill. In these circumstances you tend to see larger bulges of water forming along the edge of the mandible before these form into discrete drops which drip from the tip. I have seen this a number of times and it can sometimes create a very convincing impression of an actual structural feature. I think that may be what’s going on here. If the bulges were genuinely structural resulting from Shoveler influence I think we would see this more clearly on the first photo. The line above the cutting edge on the first photo would show some hint of a lateral extension I f the apparent bulges were due to Shoveler influence.

    So far as the bird’s plumage is concerned, or other structural features, I cannot see any evidence of Shoveler influence – it all looks perfectly Mallard to me, though of course I may be missing something. The head pattern shows signs of domestic ancestry with the strong eye-stripe etc. but still Mallard (of course domestic ducks and their crosses with wild Mallards are all Mallards and not hybrids, contrary to what many people say).

    So based on these photos alone I think this is a pure Mallard with some domestic ancestry, and not a Shoveler hybrid. But I’m more than willing to reconsider if more evidence suggests otherwise. A photo of the open wing would me most helpful, and good quality close-ups of the (dry) bill in side profile.

    For photos of a drake Mallard x Shoveler hybrid see http://birdhybrids.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/mallard-x-northern-shoveler.html – I’m afraid we don’t have any females there yet. Mallard x Shoveler hybrids seem to be very unusual compared with some other hybrid combinations.



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