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Birds of the Water Wood & Waste

The Grey Duck

page 50

The Grey Duck

Considering the comparatively large area of water on Tutira, the run breeds a very small number of Grey Duck. Even in winter only small parties stop for any length of time. Large mobs resting on the lake, when shooting is going on elsewhere, invariably leave after a few days. No doubt the food supply of this breed is scanty, owing to the absence of shallows in the lake.

During the breeding season perhaps 15 or 20 couples haunt its edges, though their nests may be often at great distances from water. Besides these, a few clutches are hatched each season in the open river beds.

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Plate VII. Grey Duck's Nest in Fern.

Plate VII. Grey Duck's Nest in Fern.

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When, however, the whole number breeding on the place are counted, the result works out to a duck to each five hundred acres. As, moreover, a quarter of the run is waste land, the chances are heavily against the discovery of many nests. Now and again, however, they are dropped upon. One nest, found in January, 1909, not very far from the lake edge, and just off an open grassy ride between flax and fern, contained ten eggs of a dull yellowish green, much the hue of those of her domesticated cousins, except that the greenish tinge is more faint in the wild bird's eggs. In size the eggs of this Grey Duck were about two-thirds as large.

Unfortunately, I came on the bird very suddenly, and she flew off, badly scared, and without any time for concealment of her eggs.

From the great depth of this nest—fully six inches—when sitting she must have been completely hidden from all sides, and only her back and head visible from above. The six-inch sides were walls of down, tightly compressed into a thick felt.

Hoping to photograph the bird herself, I set up that afternoon a rough prelimin- page 52 ary screen, and as the eggs were much incubated and as I was fearful of losing my chance, I may have erected it in too close proximity to the nest. At any rate, next morning, when revisiting the spot, I found that the eggs had been thrown out of the nest on all sides, and its edges trampled and flat. The blunt breaks on the ruined eggs, and the presence of the whole clutch uneaten in any degree pointed to this destruction as having been the work of the duck herself.

No hawk, or rat, or weasel, would have thus wantonly destroyed them. Had vermin been at work, most of the eggs would have been devoured, and one or two probably missing. The holes, also, would have been of different shapes and sizes.

During the past season another Grey Duck's nest was got, found accidentally by one of a party of scrub-cutters. It was placed among fern nearly half a mile from the nearest water, and as the bird had returned after being put off, I had hopes of getting a picture of her sitting. To effect this it was necessary to clear away a good deal of fern in the foreground, and our work must have attracted the attention of a pair page break
Plate VIII. River Scene with Blue Duck.

Plate VIII. River Scene with Blue Duck.

page break page 53 of Harriers in the neighbourhood. Anyway, when returning a couple of days later we found the clutch tumbled and devoured, the shells lying about and two eggs altogether gone. During the last twenty-eight years I do not think the Grey Duck has either increased or decreased on Tutira.