Pochard

Aythya ferina

42-49cm

Appearance

The Pochard is a bulky bird, though it's smaller than the Mallard. It is quite distinctive and known for its diving habits. It has a short neck and sloping forehead, a peaked crown and bill that is long for the size of the bird. The sexes differ, though both of them have dark bills with a pale grey band, and both have grey wings in flight, with a slightly darker edge. The male has intricately marked, pale grey back and flanks, and his head and neck are a rust-red colour; his breast and tail are black. The female is a yellowish-brown with a dark head and blotchy, paler cheeks. She has 'spectacle' lining, a white circle around her eye and a line leading towards the back of her head. Juvenile birds are like the female, but they are grey-brown with paler necks and cheeks.

Habitat

Its breeding areas include lowland lakes, flooded gravel pits and reserves with an abundance of vegetation growing in the water. It spends winters in similar habitats but can expand its horizons to larger lakes and lochs, and reservoirs.

Character

This bird mostly feeds during the night which can make it seem fairly idle in daytime. When not in breeding season, it can usually be seen in small groups or larger flocks; within flocks, males often out number females. When taking off, the Pochard patters along the surface of the water. When it's flying, it can appear quite dumpy due to short wings and a heavy body. Its wingbeats are fast and make a whistling sound.

Food

Most commonly dives to feed, and the diving movement follows a perceptible jump; females prefer shallower areas for diving. Pochards have a varied diet which includes leaves, stems and seeds of a variety of water plants including stonewort, pondweed, milfoil, sedges and grasses, and it also eats water snails, small fish, tadpoles and insects and their larvae.

Breeding

Pairs come together in late winter and nesting begins in April; females lay 8-10 eggs which are incubated for 25 days. The male leaves during that period, and when the young hatch, they're able to feed themselves. They become independent before they can fly (which happens after about 50 days).

Population

Males begin migrating for the winter before females, many of them arriving in Britain from northern and eastern Europe, and central Russia. About 600 pairs nest in the UK and less than 50 pairs in Ireland, but during winter in Britain and Ireland the number of Pochards may reach over 86 000 individuals.

Observation Tips

A relatively easy find in large water bodies between November and March. They can occur in urban cities and in some circumstances will tolerate humans.

Voice

Tends to be a silent bird, but male makes a gentle, breathy 'wiwwierr' when in courtship.
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