Thursday, December 22, 2016

Common Shelduck

Very Rare European Ducks Arrive

Common Shelducks
Three very rare ducks were discovered at Saints Rest Marsh, Saint John this week.  On Tuesday, December 20, we visited the marsh and found them, along with several other keen birders.  It was a very cold day and wind from the marsh was flesh-freezing but the birders were excited to see such beautiful and rare visitors.

Common Shelducks
The ducks were feeding about 400 metres away from our nearest viewing site, making it very difficult to get good photos.  Even though it was so bitterly cold, they were were comfortably feeding and moving around.  There were many other birds there also:  Black Ducks, Mallards, Buffleheads, Herring Gulls, Common Mergansers.  

I was struck by the beauty of these ducks.  There appeared to be two males and a female.  The excessive white on these birds is eye-catching among our waterfowl.  The dark green head appears black at a distance.  The deep red bill is very fine and slightly upturned.  The female's bill is more orange.  The brilliant chestnut breast band goes over the back and turns to black and runs down each side of the back with white in between, the chestnut showing again on the back at the posterior of the primary feathers.  The bird has white sides and a large chestnut patch on the vent.  There is also a black or chestnut stripe (I could not distinguish which) on the belly.  The legs and feet are pink or orange.

The two photos above show the actual birds observed.  Shown below is an internet photo showing a close-up of a male and female.  Some males have a red knob on the upper front of their bill.  Our three visitors did not show this knob.

Common Shelducks [Internet Photo]
The Common Shelduck is a native of Europe.  It is found year-round in the British Isles and the northern coast of France, Germany and Netherlands.  It also spends summers and breeds along the coast of Norway and Sweden.  It winters along the northern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.  

The Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated Checklist does not mention the Common Shelduck.  If there have been previous sightings, they were obviously considered escapes from zoos, etc.  I don't recall this species ever being seen here before (and I have been birding for a long time).  I believe it is a first for the province.  Some will say the sighting is not 'countable' (not accepted as a true wild occurrence of the species) but I believe these are truly wild Common Shelducks which somehow ended up here rather than along the south shore of the Mediterranean.  We have had other unusual vagrants from Europe this year (Pink-footed Goose).  Their behaviour seemed typical for wild birds.  Perhaps we will know with more certainty in time.

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