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The Tale of the Falcated Teal in Pakistan

By BCP Member Ahmer Ali Rizvi

Pakistan homes a wide variety of migratory birds flocking up from Siberia and Russia during winters. The largest commune among the visitor-birds is the waterfowl group, commonly known as Ducks. Every winter hundreds of thousand of waterfowls fly in through Indus Flyway and keep splashing on the wetlands of Punjab, and to the tidal estuaries in coastal Migratory waterfowls start immigrating in from September, spend the whole winter season on warm waters and start beating their wing back to the breeding grounds from mid February till the end of March.

The common migratory waterfowls that regularly immigrate Pakistan in large numbers include Mallard, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard. The uncommon ducks that visit the region occasionally and usually in small numbers are Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Garganey, Scaup and Tufted Duck.

Duck is a very popular bird among hunters and poachers. Every winter, thousands of ducks are hunted with guns. More than many thousand are captured using wide-spread nets. Despite illegal trade, poached birds are sold openly in various markets. During winters, bird markets are abundantly filled with captured birds. A large number of pet lovers as well as devourers visit bird markets and buy the birds of their choice to satisfy their hobbies or to meet their nourishment needs. Some bird-lovers are also found busy in window-shopping in the markets.

This winter, a man was browsing a bird-shop in a famous market in Karachi. He chanced on watching a very unique, beautiful and most importantly a very rare bird in a cage. At first, he didn’t believe at his eyes but on watching closely he identified the bird very surely. It was a fully matured male “Falcated Teal”. The man could not make a mistake in identifying the bird since he was an experienced birdwatcher of Sindh Wildlife Department, Rafique Ahmed Rajput.

Sindh Wildlife Department's, Rafique Ahmed Rajput with the Falcated Teal


Falcated Teal, a gorgeous duck was lastly seen and recorded in 1901 in Sindh as a vagrant bird. Since than this specimen is now recorded this winter in a bird market. On investigation, it was told that a pair of Falcated Teal was entrapped from a wetland in Larakana in mid January and was brought to Karachi for sale. Unfortunately, the female died later on. Rafique informed The Chief Conservator Wildlife about this scarce bird, resulting the bird was taken into safe custody. On further examination, the bird was found slightly injured with little casting off features.

Falcated Teal is a typical Siberian duck that breeds in East Siberia to North Manchuria. Baikal Lake and Yenisie River are the main breeding grounds of Falcated Teal in Siberia. A small population also breeds near Hokkaido Island in Japan. During winter major population of Falcated Teals migrates towards Japan, Korea and China. It furthers extends as far South as Central Vietnam to Burma.
Determining the status of wild specie of a bird in a particular region, based only on authentic evidence. In Pakistan, Falcated Teal shows a very sporadic status. Earliest record of this remarkable duck is as of 1879 by Major General McLeod who himself shot down a female bird during a hunt in Bahawalpur. Later on, in 1920 a single duck was hunted in Jehlum and then another was shot in 1930 in Bahawalpur.

In Sindh province, only one Falcated Teal was acknowledged, when it was hunted in Nara - district Sanghar in 1901. Unfortunately, all the previous evidences of Falcated duck in Pakistan were recorded as ‘killed bird’. It has never been seen or reported in wild by waterfowl monitoring team or by any birdwatcher. The duck recently captured from Larkana and recovered from a bird market, is regarded as the first live specimen of Falcated Teal in Pakistan.

The author Ahmer Ali Rizvi with the rare find

Falcated Teal is a very beautiful bird that can mesmerize viewer of its beauty. Like other dabbling ducks, it shows different plumage in both sexes. Female is simply buff and brown with slightly mounted head while male is much decorative with stunning multicolored head with a prominent crest at the back. Forehead and top shows purple shades while the sides are glossy green. A small white patch near the bill gives it a striking look. The throat is off-white with a black muffler around the neck. The chest and body is glossy silver with fine and delicate fish-scale like markings. Rear part of its back presents a very distinctive look because of large black and white sickle feathers attached with secondary underwing coverts.

Falcated Teal belongs to the dabbler group of duck family that dips its neck down for food in water leaving the body and tail floating on the surface. This particular feeding style in known as upending. It feeds on aquatic weeds, seeds and sometimes insects.

Falcated Teal prefers to settle in ponds, rivers, small lakes and marshes both on its breeding as well as wintering grounds. In Japan, it is also found resting on sea-waters.During the breeding period, Falcated Teal usually makes its nest in marshy tussock near water. Female spends most of its time in nest while male remains nearby and guards both female and eggs. As soon the hatchlings are emerged from eggs, male moves to the moulting ground where all the males are gathered to shed their flight feathers. After moulting, the male returns to its nest and spends a month or two with its family. Then a time comes when they start their preparation for winter migration. On wintering grounds both male and female spend time together and mate for next breeding season. At the onset of spring they take flight to their breeding region.

This winter, the unfortunate pair drifted away from its conventional route due to an unknown reason and took refuge on waters of Sindh. They weren’t aware of the ruthless tradition of hunting and poaching of wild birds in this region. They were trapped in poacher’s net ended up with the decease of female and the male was seized for protection.

When I came to know about this unique duck, I visited Sindh Wildlife Department in the month of February and met Mr. Rafique who showed me this beautiful duck and told the sad story. We jointly studied about the habitat, feed and migration phenomenon of Falcated Teal. We came to know that a male Falcated duck can easily be coupled up with female Gadwall. Since Gadwall is a common wintering bird in this region, there is a hope that Falcated Teal may get a mate and then it can go back to its aboriginal region. But we also realized that it was too late to hope for all this at this instant because the down migration of waterfowl was almost completed. The duck would not be able to get a mate if it is released in the wild right away. Furthermore, the confiscated duck had also started shedding its feathers. Eventually, we decided to keep this exceptional duck in waterfowl aviary at Haleji Lake till next winter. To make this happen, we set out a trip and made all necessary arrangement that also included acquiring permission from Chief Conservator Wildlife.

On March 6, early morning we transported the duck to Haleji Lake. At 08:30 we, carrying the duck, stepped into the aviary enclosure where the captive breeding of Mallard and other waterfowls is ongoing. Besides hundreds of Mallards there were also few Pochard ducks and Flamingoes, which were also impounded from local poachers of the area. Unfortunately, there was not any female Gadwall in the premises.

Sindh Wildlife Department's waterfowl breeding facility at Haleji Lake, Sindh


After taking some precautionary measure, Rafiq released the Falcated Teal carefully on the water. It started swimming and quickly rushed to a corner. Soon, it jumped out of the water and sat on the embankment. The duck was seemed afraid of other ducks. All the Mallards and other ducks were also surprised to see this new entrant. After sometime, our Falcated duck again splashed on water and started moving slowly towards other ducks. Those were the most gratifying moments to watch and enjoy. Soon, it was mixed up with its, not brothers, but cousins. We were happy that none of them was found quarrelsome.

Keep observing the duck for two hours we came out of the aviary and visited Wildlife Information Center. Rafiq gave necessary instructions to the bird-keepers for taking a good care of this special guest. He emphasized on pursuing a female Gadwall, most probably from a poacher, and to keep it in the same enclosure so that the Falcated duck may make a pair. Finally, we got back to the city with hope that our guest bird would have found a mate before next winter and it will be back to its breeding ground.

 
 

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