Garganey

Anas querquedula

37-41cm

Appearance

The Garganey is smaller than a Mallard but a bit longer than a Teal. Its head has a slight oblong shape, it has a straight grey bill and flattish forehead. Males and females have different markings; while flying, males show a pale, blue-grey forewing and a green speculum with a white edge. Females don't have the pale forewing section and her speculum is grey-brown. Other ways to distinguish the male are the thick white stripes on his eyes; they curve downwards and connect at the back of his neck. His flanks have thin barring, his breast is mottled brown, he has a white belly and his back has drooping feathers in black-and-white. The female is quite similar to the female Teal, but she is paler, her throat more white. She has a grey bill with a light smudge at its base. A dark line runs across her face with a pale stripe over the eye. The juvenile bird is like the adult female; it has a similar striped head.

Habitat

Water meadows, flooded grasslands and reedy and marshy pools or ditches are where these birds prefer to breed. They like to have cover from vegetation, regardless of season.

Character

Tends to associate in pairs or in small groups outside of the breeding season. It is generally a discreet bird, partly because it feeds in thick vegetation. When it flies it looks a bit bulkier than the Teal, and its long neck can help to identify it.

Food

This bird does most of its feeding while it swims; it up-ends, or searches the water's surface for food. Its has a diverse diet which includes insects and their larvae such as water beetles, flies and midges. It also eats water snails, freshwater shrimps, and the spawn and young of frogs. A range of plants are also consumed, especially the stems, leaves or seeds of water weeds, reeds, sedges, grasses, rushes, docks and duckweed.

Breeding

Pairs find each other in the winter and then arrive together on their breeding grounds. A small territory is formed around the nest. From April the female lays 8-9 eggs, incubating for 22 days; the male usually deserts during this time. Young can feed themselves soon after hatching and can fly after 35-40 days.

Population

This is the only wildfowl that's solely a summer visitor to the area. Between 50 and 100 pairs breed in Britain; these numbers have slightly increased in recent years, though populations in other parts of Europe have declined. The Garganey arrives in Europe in March and returns to an African winter between July and October.

Observation Tips

Male's rattling alarm call can be a good signifier of its sometimes secretive presence. March and April are the best months for observation; at this time they're migrating and may be less wary. The shallows of wetland or open pools with vegetation are good places to search, as well as coastal reserves in East Anglia, and Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve in Kent.

Voice

When displaying, the male has a characteristic rattling call, likened to burping. The female utters a gentle quack.
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