Pied Duck

The definitive website on wildbirds & nature

Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.


Back TOC Forward


[Labrador Duck. x EXTINCT.]

[Camptorhynchus labradorius.]


Although no birds of this species occurred to me when I was in Labrador, my son, JOHN WOODHOUSE, and the young friends who accompanied him on the 28th of July, 1833, to Blanc Sablon, found, placed on the top of the low tangled fir-bushes, several deserted nests, which from the report of the English clerk of the fishing establishment there, we learned to belong to the Pied Duck. They had much the appearance of those of the Eider Duck, being very large, formed externally of fir twigs, internally of dried grass, and lined with down. It would thus seem that the Pied Duck breeds earlier than most of its tribe. It is surprising that this species is not mentioned by Dr. RICHARDSON in the Fauna Boreali-Americana, as it is a very hardy bird, and is met with along the coasts of Nova Scotia, Maine, and Massachusetts, during the most severe cold of winter. My friend Professor MACCULLOCH of Pictou, has procured several in his immediate neighbourhood; and the Honourable DANIEL WEBSTER of Boston sent me a fine pair killed by himself, on the Vineyard Islands, on the coast of Massachusetts, from which I made the drawing for the plate before you. The female has not, I believe, been hitherto figured; yet the one represented was not an old bird.

The range of this species along our shores does not extend farther southward than Chesapeake Bay, where I have seen some near the influx of the St. James river. I have also met with several in the Baltimore market. Along the coast of New Jersey and Long Island it occurs in greater or less number every year. It also at times enters the Delaware river, and ascends that stream at least as far as Philadelphia. A bird-stuffer whom I knew at Camden had many fine specimens, all of which he had procured by baiting fish-hooks with the common mussel, on a "trot-line" sunk a few feet beneath the surface, but on which be never found one alive, on account of the manner in which these Ducks dive and flounder when securely hooked. All the specimens which I saw with this person, male and female, were in perfect plumage; and I have not enjoyed opportunities of seeing the chances which this species undergoes.

The Pied Duck seems to be a truly marine bird, seldom entering rivers unless urged by stress of weather. It procures its food by diving amidst the rolling surf over sand or mud bars; although at times it comes along the shore, and searches in the manner of the Spoonbill Duck. Its usual fare consists of small shell-fish, fry, and various kinds of sea-weeds, along with which it swallows much sand and gravel. Its flight is swift, and its wings emit a whistling sound. It is usually seen in flocks of from seven to ten, probably the members of one family.

PIED DUCK, Anas labradora, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 91.
FULIGULA LABRADORA, Bonap. Syn., p. 391.
PIED DUCK, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 428.

PIED DUCK, Fuligula labradora, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 271.

Male, 20, 30. Female, 18 1/4, 29.

Along the shores of the Atlantic from Nova Scotia to New Jersey, rather rare, in winter. Breeds from Labrador northward. Never seen in the interior.

Adult Male.

Bill nearly as long as the head, rather broader than high at the base, the sides nearly parallel, but at the end enlarged by soft membranous expansions to the upper mandible. The latter has the dorsal outline at first straight and declinate, then direct and slightly convex, at the extremity decurved; the ridge broad at the base, convex toward the end; the sides sloping at the base, then convex, the extremity broad and rounded, the unguis broadly obovate; the margins soft, expanded toward the end, and with about 50 lamellae, of which the anterior are inconspicuous. Nasal groove oblong, nostrils linear-oblong, sub-basal near the ridge. Lower mandible flattened, curved upwards, with the angle very long and narrow, the dorsal line very short, and nearly straight, the nearly erect edges with about 30 large and prominent lamellae; the unguis very broad.

Head of moderate size, oblong, compressed. Eyes small. Neck rather short and thick. Body full, depressed. Feet very short, strong, placed rather far behind; tarsus very short, compressed, with two anterior series of rather small scutella, the sides and back part reticulated with angular scales. Hind toe very small, with a free membrane beneath; outer anterior toes double the length of the tarsus, and nearly equal, the inner much shorter, and with a broad marginal membrane. Claws small, slightly arched, compressed, rather acute.

Plumage dense, soft, blended; feathers of the head and neck small, oblong; those on the lower part of the cheeks very stiff, having the terminal filaments more or less united into a horny plate. Wings short, of moderate breadth, concave, acute; primary quills curved, strong, tapering, the second very slightly longer than the first, the rest rapidly graduated; secondary quills broad and rounded, the inner elongated and tapering. Tail very short, much rounded, of fourteen tapering feathers.

Bill with the basal space between the nostrils running into a rounded point in the middle, pale greyish-blue; the sides of the base, and the edges of both mandibles for two-thirds of their length, dull pale orange; the rest of the bill black. Iris reddish-hazel. Feet light greyish-blue, webs and claws dusky. Head and upper half of neck white, excepting an elongated black patch on the top of the head and nape. Below the middle of the neck is a black ring, from the hind part of which proceeds a longitudinal band of the same colour, gradually becoming wider on the back and rump; below the black ring anteriorly is a broad band of white, passing backwards on each side so as to include the scapulars. All the under parts black, excepting the axillaries and lower wing-coverts. Upper wing-coverts and secondary quills white, some of the inner quills with a narrow external black margin; alula, primary coverts, and primary quills, brownish-black. Tail brownish-black, tinged with grey, the shafts black; upper tail-coverts dusky, minutely dotted with reddish-brown.

Length to end of tail 20 inches, to end of claws 22 1/2, to end of wings 18 1/4; extent of wings 30; wing from flexure 9 1/4; tail 3 5/8; bill along the ridge 1 3/4, along the edge of lower mandible 2 3/8; tarsus 1 1/2; middle toe 2 3/8, its claw 3/8; hind toe 4 (1/2)/8, its claw (1 1/2)/8; outer toe and claw slightly longer than middle; inner toe 1 7/8, its claw (2 1/2)/8. Weight 1 lb. 14 1/2 oz.


The female is less than the male. The bill, iris, and feet are coloured as in the male; sides of the forehead white (not in the figure, it having been taken from a young bird). The general colour is brownish-grey, darker on the head, cheeks, back, rump, and abdomen, of a lighter tint, approaching to ash-grey, on the throat, breast, wing-coverts, and inner secondaries, which are margined externally with black; seven or eight of the secondary quills white; the primaries and tall-feathers as in the male.

Length to end of tail 18 1/4 inches, to end of claws 19 3/8, to end of wings 17; extent of wings 29; wing from flexure 9; tail 3 1/2; bill along the ridge 1 5/8, along the edge of lower mandible 2 1/8; tarsus 1 1/2; hind toe and claw middle toe and claw 2 1/2. Weight 1 lb. 1 oz.

Back TOC Forward

Save Our Forests