Family Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)

Least Concern

Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus)

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Taxonomy

French: Malacorhynque à oreilles roses German: Rosenohrente Spanish: Pato pachón
Taxonomy:

Anas membranacea

Latham

, 1801,

New South Wales, Australia

.

Sometimes placed in tribe Tadornini. Monotypic.

Distribution:

Australia: main centres of population in SW & SE.

Descriptive notes

36–45 cm; male 290–480 g, female 272–423 g#R; wingspan 57–71 cm. Unmistakable. Sexes basically alike, with grey forehead and crown, white face with large dark brown eye-patch continuing as narrow stripe to nape and forming stripe on hindneck, white eyering, small pink tuft above and behind eye, white underparts broadly barred dark brown from upper breast to vent, the bars becoming broader and darker on flanks, pale chestnut undertail-coverts, barred mantle, back and wings brown finely vermiculated paler, with narrow white trailing edges to wings, white rump, dark brown uppertail-coverts, brown tail with narrow white terminal band, white underwings with pale barring on underwing-coverts and dark brown flight feathers; bill lead grey, with square tip, spatula-like shape and soft membranous flaps at tip of maxilla; legs and feet dark grey; irides brown. Female is smaller and lighter, but differences unlikely to be appreciable in field#R. Juvenile duller and browner, with less barring, greyer forehead#R and pink spot on face hardly apparent.

Drawing by Francesc Jutglar
Descriptive notes:

36–45 cm; male 290–480 g, female 272–423 g#R; wingspan 57–71 cm. Unmistakable. Sexes basically alike, with grey forehead and crown, white face with large dark brown eye-patch continuing as narrow stripe to nape and forming stripe on hindneck, white eyering, small pink tuft above and behind eye, white underparts broadly barred dark brown from upper breast to vent, the bars becoming broader and darker on flanks, pale chestnut undertail-coverts, barred mantle, back and wings brown finely vermiculated paler, with narrow white trailing edges to wings, white rump, dark brown uppertail-coverts, brown tail with narrow white terminal band, white underwings with pale barring on underwing-coverts and dark brown flight feathers; bill lead grey, with square tip, spatula-like shape and soft membranous flaps at tip of maxilla; legs and feet dark grey; irides brown. Female is smaller and lighter, but differences unlikely to be appreciable in field#R. Juvenile duller and browner, with less barring, greyer forehead#R and pink spot on face hardly apparent.

Voice

Vocalizations usually described as chirruping or twittering, especially when referring to flocks in flight, with no obvious differences between the sexes; four main calls have been described, as follows: (i) a distinctive, trilling “we-we-we-we-we-we-we-ooo” that is variable in its intensity, from a soft purring to frenzied version, often rising and falling in pitch, and is commonest vocalization heard from birds in flocks; (ii) a sharp, ticking “tu-ick”, “puik” or “tick-uk”, which is probably given in alarm; (iii) a deep nasal “gronk” or “grunk” whose context or function is unknown; and (iv) a loud trumpeted whistle, “whee-ooo”, which is both drawn-out and rises and falls, and is given especially by male in defence of mate, nest-site or brood, but is almost certainly given by both sexes, with a similar call, even more prolonged, given during pair formation; ducklings give piping “shripp shripp” in distress and softer twittering “tititi” in contentment#R.

Habitat

An ecological specialist, exploiting temporary ponds and lakes of shallow saline or brackish waters of inland Australia. Occasionally found in more permanent, deeper waterbodies, as well as at waste stabilization ponds#R#R.

Food and feeding

Planktonic organisms (algae, microscopic seeds, crustaceans, molluscs, insects, etc.). Feeds mostly on surface by water and mud filtering with highly specialized bill, sometimes while walking, feeding either alone, in parallel, by spinning or vortexing (in both directions) in pairs, trios or flocks#R; may also dabble and frequently upends, but never dives#R. Study in S Victoria found that birds spent on average 38·7% of daytime feeding and 41·8% resting, with clear peaks in foraging activity around sunrise and sunset, and surface filtering (96·9%) was almost the sole foraging method, although dipping (2·1%) and surface dabbling (1%) were also employed#R.

Breeding

Season variable, much dependent on water levels, but in SE Australia breeds mainly in Aug–Feb, following winter rains#R, with records of eggs and young in SW Australia in Nov–Jan#R. Monogamous and pair-bonds probably long-term#R. In single pairs or loose groups, especially at height of breeding season#R; nest is mound of down, in tree hollows, crotches, nestboxes#R or in old nests of other waterbirds, especially coots (Fulica)#R, usually over water. Usually 6–8 white to creamy white eggs (3–11), size 45–53 mm × 34–38 mm, calculated mass 31 g#R; incubation c. 26 days by female alone#R; chicks have light grey-brown down above, whitish below, with prominent dark brown eye-patch and eyestripe, and characteristic bill flaps already evident#R; fledging 45–60 days, tended by both adults#R. Average of 6·4 ducklings hatched and 4·7 fledged per nest in one study involving 122 nests, in New South Wales#R. Almost certainly breeds when c. 1 year old#R. No further information, e.g. on annual survival rates or longevity#R.

Movements

Somewhat dispersive and nomadic; can be seen almost anywhere in Australia, and even in Tasmania, but only very rarely in dry inland regions; regularly reaches coastal areas, although inland wetlands of SW & SE are species strongholds#R. Its distribution clearly reflects extent of flooding in each area. One record from New Zealand, at Mangere in Jun–Jul 1990#R#R.

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Widespread and locally abundant. Total population probably several hundred thousand, occasionally > 1,000,000 individuals, but difficult to calculate given nomadic character of this species which is opportunist breeder on inland floodwaters; surveys during 1980s and early 1990s in E Australia found on average 370,000 birds and sometimes > 750,000 birds#R. No long-term trends evident#R. In 1988, 45,536 birds counted in 472 wetlands in Victoria, and 6131 in 1398 wetlands in SW Australia. Hunters may kill large numbers, although only 30–40% of population occurs in areas open to hunting.

Recommended citation

Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/52897 on 23 May 2019).