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White Winged Wood Duck

One of the most endangered birds in the world is the white winged wood duck (Cairina scutulata). It was once distributed widely across north-east India and south-east Asia. But now, only about 800 survive in the wild of which about 450 are present in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In India, the duck is limited to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Due to its ghostly call, it is called ‘Deo Hans’ or Spirit Duck in Assamese.

It has a black body, a white head that is thickly spotted with black, conspicuous white patches on the wings and red or orange eyes. Its average length is about 81 cm. The sexes are more or less alike, the male having more gloss on the plumage, and being much larger and heavier.

It mostly resides in dense tropical evergreen forest and is known to prefer inaccessible swampy areas formed by numerous rivers, streams, etc. The duck is generally found in pairs or in small parties of four to six, though parties of more than 10 are also recorded. It loves shade and spends most of the day in secluded jungle pools, occasionally perching on the trees during the day.

It is a crepuscular bird as it is most active at dusk and dawn. The adults are largely omnivorous. The food consists of plant and animal material, aquatic plants, seed of wild and cultivated plants, aquatic insects, crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, snakes and fishes. It breeds in the hollows of trees, during summer months.

The severe decline in the duck’s population is largely attributed to the destruction, degradation and disturbance of riverine habitats including loss of riparian forest corridors. The resultant small, fragmented populations are vulnerable to extinction due to loss of genetic variability, disturbance, hunting and collection of eggs and chicks for food or pets. More local threats to the bird include inappropriate forest management, and pollution.

WWF-India is working to conserve the habitats of white winged wood duck though its Western Arunachal Pradesh and North Bank Landscapes programmes in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam respectively.

Source: BirdLife International (2009) Species factsheet
 / ©: Adrian Pingstone
White Winged Wood Duck
© Adrian Pingstone