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Hardhead – Beautiful Duck deserves more flattering name

Bird Photography with marysejansenart

The only true diving duck in Australia

Soft Ripples by Hardhead by Maryse Jansen
Soft Ripples by Hardhead

What’s in a name?!

A pair of beautiful chocolate brown ducks swims gently past down in the creek as I am watching from a small elevated platform. I have not seen these before! They listen to the unflattering name of Hardhead! I can assure you it has nothing to do with the hardness of their skull, nor with their level of stubbornness. In fact, the name is said to refer to the difficulty early taxonomists had with processing the head of this bird!

This bird is alternatively known as White-eyed Duck, although the striking white eye is only observed in males. The female eye is brown. Hardhead, or Hardhead Duck is much more commonly used as their name however. But I do think it deserves a more flattering name! The beautiful duck is almost completely chocolate brown in colour, with the exception of rufous flanks and white underparts. Another striking feature is the pale blue tip on their bill. The bird has a more rounded appearance then most other ducks.

Hardhead by Maryse Jansen

The Hardhead is the only true diving duck in Australia

These white underparts are mostly invisible when it is in the water and that is where you will most likely find Hardheads. You might only see a bit of white under the tail. These birds prefer large, open, fresh water bodies such as lakes, swamps and rivers where the water is still and deep. They rarely come on land and never perch in trees. If you are lucky enough to catch sight of a Hardhead in flight you will be able to see the contrasting white colour on the breast and on the wings which have brown edges.

The Hardhead is the only true diving duck that you can find in Australia. Diving ducks dive deeply under the surface of the water in search of food. The Hardheads can stay submerged for up to a minute at a time! Their diving technique is simple and unobtrusive: they lower their head under the water and then use their webbed feet to thrust themselves downwards. They barely leave a ripple! Once down there, they search for small aquatic creatures and waterweeds to fill their stomachs.

A calm character

Even though common in the south-east of Australia, I do not spot them often. They can be a bit nomadic, especially in times of drought. I see a small number appear in a local lake and observe them for a while as they quietly swim across the centre of the lake.

A bit more to the right are some Eurasian Coots drawing a whole lot more attention to themselves by chasing each other and spraying a lot of water around while flapping their wings in the pursuit. One of them suddenly takes after one of the Hardheads. I wonder what the reason is for this. The Hardhead decides there is only one way out and takes a deep dive. The Eurasian Coot seems to forget about its existence pretty quickly and turns back to its own kind. The small group of Hardheads gradually moves away from the Coots and peace and quiet is restored on the lake.

Breeding habits

The breeding season of the Hardheads is variable, but occurs mostly in the second half of the year.. They will usually breed after rain. The female duck builds a nest out of reeds, sticks and other vegetation. She tramples it so that it becomes a platform and lines it with down. The nest can be in or near the water, hidden in thick vegetation. The bird lays 9-13 eggs and she incubates them by herself, the male is not involved. After 30 days the cute yellow and brown mottled ducklings hatch.

It will be a while before I might be lucky enough to spot some Hardhead ducklings, but for now I enjoy the sight of these unique chocolate brown ducks!

Join me on my walk around the lake and enjoy watching the small group of Hardheads, as well as the pursuit by one of the Eurasian Coots!

If you are interested in purchasing a print of ‘Soft Ripples by Hardhead’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various merchandise products, please head to my shop.

Check out some other amazing water birds!

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