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The Harlequin Duck


The Harlequin Duck


The definitive website on wildbirds & nature



Birds of America

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

VOLUME VI.

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Family
Genus

THE HARLEQUIN DUCK.
[Harlequin Duck.]

FULIGULA HISTRIONICA, Linn.
[Histrionicus histrionicus.]

PLATE CCCCIX.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.

I have the pleasure of presenting you with three figures of the Harlequin Duck, one a male in all the perfection of its spring plumage, the bird having attained complete maturity, another male two years old, and an adult female shot in the pairing season. No figures of the adult male or of the female have, I believe, hitherto been published.

To the south of the Bay of Boston the "Lord and Lady Duck" is rarely seen on our coast; but from that neighbourhood it becomes more plentiful as you proceed eastward; and, on reaching Maine and the entrance of the Bay of Fundy, you may see it at any period of the year among the rocky islands there. It breeds on the Seal, White Head, and Grand Manan Islands, and along the coast of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, and Labrador. Many, however, proceed much farther north, for specimens were obtained by Captain JAMES CLARK Ross in the highest latitudes visited by him. It is extremely attached to certain localities, from which it rarely wanders unless greatly molested, and it thus remains about the islands, or the parts of the coast on which it breeds, unless it be forced off by very severe weather in winter. Few persons shoot it for its flesh; not that it is inferior as food to other deep-diving Ducks, but because it is comparatively small, and difficult to be obtained. Not only is it at all seasons remarkably shy and vigilant, but even if approached when on rocks, it plunges into the water the moment its keen eye catches a glance of you, dives with all the agility of the Black Guillemot, and seldom rises within shot. If you shoot at it when passing on wing, even should it be beyond reach, it plunges into the water the moment it perceives the flash,--a habit which is also occasionally observed in the Black Guillemot. It being usually found in flocks of one or two families, or of from twelve to fifteen individuals, some one always acts as a watchful sentinel, whose single note of alarm is sufficient to induce the whole to move off without hesitation. Notwithstanding all this vigilance, however, my party procured a good number of them at different times, by lying in wait for them under cover of some rocks, in the neighbourhood of which they were known to alight at certain hours of the day, to bask in the sun and dress their plumage. On these occasions a shot seldom failed to kill several, for they fly compactly and alight close together.

On the 31st of May, 1833, I found them breeding on White Head Island, and other much smaller places of a similar nature, in the same part of the Bay of Fundy. There they place their nests under the bushes or amid the grass, at the distance of twenty or thirty yards from the water. Farther north, in Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, they remove from the sea, and betake themselves to small lakes a mile or so in the interior, on the margins of which they form their nests beneath the bushes next to the water.

The nest is composed of dry plants of various kinds, arranged in a circular manner to the height of two or three inches, and lined with finer grasses. The eggs are five or six, rarely more, measure two inches and one-sixteenth by one inch and four and a half eighths, and are of a plain greenish-yellow colour. These measurements differ a little from those of an egg sent to me by my friend Mr. HEWITSON of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and which had been found in Ireland by Mr. ATKINSON. After the eggs are laid, the female plucks the down from the lower parts of her body, and places it beneath and around them, in the same manner as the Eider Duck and other species of this tribe. The male leaves her to perform the arduous but, no doubt to her, pleasant task of hatching and rearing the brood, and, joining his idle companions, returns to the sea-shore, where he moults in July and August. The little ones leave the nest a few hours after they burst the shell, and follow their mother to the water, where she leads them about with the greatest care and anxiety. When about a week old she walks with them to the sea, where they continue, in the same manner as the Eiders. When discovered in one of these small inland lakes, the mother emits a lisping note of admonition, on which she and the young dive at once, and the latter make for the shores, where they conceal themselves, while the former rises at a good distance, and immediately taking to wing, leaves the place for awhile. On searching along the shores for the young, we observed that, on being approached, they ran to the water and dived towards the opposite side, continuing their endeavours thus to escape, until so fatigued that we caught four out of six. When at sea, they are as difficult to be caught as the young Eiders.

The flight of the Harlequin Duck is rapid and generally straight. At sea it flies at a small height, but when flying over the land, or even when approaching it, should there be any suspicion of danger, it rises to a considerable height. Its food consists of shrimps, small fishes, roe, aquatic insects, and mollusca, which it procures by diving. The flesh is dark, and generally tastes of fish, but that of the female is good during the period of her sojourn on the fresh-water ponds.

The male takes three years to acquire his full plumage, although many individuals breed in the second year. The female is perfect in the second spring. Dr. RICHARDSON, in the Fauna Boreali-Americana, describes a male killed on the eastern declivity of the Rocky Mountains, whence it appears that at times it goes far inland; and it is very probable that its habits differ greatly in different localities.

HARLEQUIN DUCK, Anas histrionica, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 139.
FULIGULA HISTRIONICA, Bonap. Syn., p. 394.
CLANGULA HISTRIONICA, Harlequin Duck, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,vol. ii. p. 459.

HARLEQUIN DUCK, Fuligula histrionica, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iii. p. 612;vol. v. p. 617.

Adult Male in summer.

Bill much shorter than the head, comparatively narrow, deeper than broad at the base, slightly depressed towards the end, which is rounded. Upper mandible with the dorsal line straight and sloping to the middle, then nearly straight, towards the tip decurved, the ridge broad and flat at the base, convex towards the end, the sides convex, the edges soft, with about thirty-five oblique internal lamellae, the unguis large and elliptical. Nostrils sub-basal, elliptical, very large, pervious, nearer the ridge than the edge. Lower mandible flat, with the angle long, rather narrow, rounded, the dorsal line slightly convex, the edges with about forty lamellae, the unguis elliptical.

Head rather large, compressed. Eyes of moderate size. Neck of ordinary length, thick. Body large, depressed. Wings rather small. Feet very short, placed rather far behind; tarsus very short, compressed, having anteriorly in its whole length a series of small scutella, and above the outer toe a few broad scales, the rest covered with reticular angular scales. Hind toe very small, with a free membrane beneath; anterior toes longer than the tarsus, connected by reticulated membranes, having a sinus on their free margins, the inner with a narrow lobed marginal membrane, the outer with a thickened edge, the third and fourth about equal and longest, all covered above with narrow scutella. Claws small, arched, obtuse, that of first toe very small, of third largest, and with an inner thin edge.

Plumage dense, soft, blended. Feathers on the fore part of the head very small and rounded, on the upper part of the head slightly elongated, on the neck narrow, on the other parts broad and rounded. Wings rather short, narrow, pointed; primary quills curved, strong, tapering, and pointed, the first and second about equal, and longest, the rest rapidly graduated; secondary short, broad and rounded. Tail very short, cuneate, of sixteen strong tapering feathers.

Bill light yellowish-olive, the tips of the unguis lighter. Iris reddish-brown. Feet light blue, the webs greyish-black, the claws whitish. A broad band from the base of the bill to the occiput bluish-black, margined behind with light yellowish-red, before with white, that colour forming a broad triangular spot on the cheek anterior to the eye. Sides of the head, and neck all round, purplish-blue; a spot of white behind the ear, a curved line on the side of the neck, a complete ring of white below the middle of the neck, with a curved band of the same colour anterior to the wing. All these white markings broadly edged with deep black. The fore part of the back light purplish-blue, the hind part gradually deepening in tint, so as to become almost black, of which colour is the rump all round. Scapulars chiefly white; wing-coverts purplish-blue, as are the alula and primary coverts, the quills dark greyish-brown, the tail greyish-black, a small white spot near the flexure of the wing; a band of white across the wing, formed by the tips of the secondaries, of which the inner have their outer webs principally of the same colour. Fore part of the breast purplish-blue, hind part and abdomen greyish-brown, sides light red; a lateral spot of white near the root of the tail.

Length to end of tail 17 1/4 inches, to end of wings 14 1/2, to end of claws 16 1/2; extent of wings 26 1/2; wing from flexure 7 3/4; tail 3 1/2; bill along the back 1 1/12, along the edge of lower mandible 1 1/2; tarsus 1 4/12; middle toe 2, its claw 4/12. Weight 1 1/2 lbs.

Male in the second year.

The young male, after the first moult, is greyish-brown on the back and wings, light brownish-grey beneath. The head and neck are of a dull leaden-blue, the upper part of the head darker. The white spot before the eye is mottled with grey, the line extending over the eye obscure, and the edging of the occiput faint reddish-brown. The two white marks exist on the sides of the neck, but are merely edged with darker blue; there are slight indications of the white collar, and the band before the wing is marked, but much smaller than in the adult. The quills are dark brown, but the secondaries are not tipped with white, of which there are but slight indications on the scapulars. The upper tail-coverts are blackish, the tail bluish-grey, lighter at the end. The bill is dusky, the feet of a leaden tint.

Male in the third year.

After the second moult, the male has greatly improved in colouring, although the tints are not nearly so pure as in the old bird. The hind part of the back is still brown, as are the wing-coverts; the sides are dark brownish-grey, with undulated yellowish-red bars. The white collar is not yet complete, but all the white markings on the neck are edged with black; the fore part of the breast is dull grey, the middle yellowish-grey, spotted with bluish-grey. The white bar on the wing is still wanting; the rump is glossy bluish-black, the tail nearly of the same tint.

Adult Female.

The principal colour of the female is greyish-brown, deeper on the head and rump, lighter on the fore neck, and mottled with greyish-white on the breast. The quills are dark brown, edged with lighter, the tail blackish-grey. There is a large whitish spot mottled with grey before the eye, and another of a purer white behind the ear. Bill and feet dull bluish-grey. Iris brown.

Length to end of tail 16 inches, to end of wings 13 1/2, to end of claws 15 1/2; extent of wings 24 1/4; wing from flexure 8 1/4; tail 3 1/2; bill along the back 1 10/12, along the edge of lower mandible 1 1/2; tarsus 1 1/4; middle toe 2, its claw 4/12. Weight 1 1/4 lbs.

Male from Dr. T. M. BREWER. Width of mouth 9 twelfths, its roof deeply concave as in most other Ducks; the posterior aperture of the nares oblongo-linear, 8 twelfths in length, margined with very slender acute papillae; the lamellae on each side of the upper mandible about 35; those on the edge of the lower mandible about 60; the tongue 1 inch 4 twelfths long, fleshy, broad, thick at the base, becoming thin toward the end, with thin, fringed margins, and a semicircular tip. OEsophagus 7 inches 2 twelfths long, of the uniform width of 8 twelfths on the neck, the proventriculus 9 twelfths in breadth. Stomach a strong muscular gizzard, 1 1/2 inches long, 1 inch 7 twelfths broad; the lateral muscles very large, the tendons covering almost its whole surface; the epithelium very thick, dense, with two opposite elliptical flat grinding surfaces. The proventricular glands form a belt 1 1/2 inches in breadth. The liver is very large, its lobes very unequal, the right 2 inches 8 twelfths long, the left 1 inch 8 twelfths. Intestine 58 1/2 inches long, its average width 5 twelfths.

The trachea, which is 6 1/2 inches in length, has at first a breadth of only 3 twelfths, but at the distance of three-quarters of an inch enlarges to 4 1/2 twelfths, and so continues for 2 inches; it then contracts to 2 1/2 twelfths, and again at the lower part enlarges to 5 1/4, twelfths, and terminates in a large transverse bony dilatation or tympanum, of which the length is 7 1/2 twelfths, the breadth 1 inch 2 twelfths; it projects as usual to the left side, where it is of a rounded form. The rings of the trachea are 124, broad, firm, and well ossified. The bronchi are of moderate width, of about 25 half rings. The lateral muscles are strong, the sterno-tracheal of considerable size, coming off at the commencement of the tympanum, and there are no inferior laryngeal muscles.

In a female, the intestine is 57 inches long; its width in the duodenal part 3 twelfths; the coeca 4 inches long, 3 twelfths in breadth at the widest part, at the base 1 twelfth, and toward the end 2 twelfths; their distance from the extremity 3 inches.

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