BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild January -


Smaller than mal­lards, but with a larger bill, the dis­tinc­tive drakes have a dark green head and rusty­or­ange flanks and belly. As the breed­ing pop­u­la­tion de­parts for warmer climes, their con­ti­nen­tal cousins will ar­rive to spend the win­ter on our reser­voirs.


At a dis­tance, a gad­wall drake ( be­low) is un­re­mark­able – grey with a black rear end – but at close quar­ters the plumage is finely ver­mic­u­lated. The fe­males, how­ever, look like slim mal­lards. Most gad­wall over­win­ter­ing in Bri­tain will have come from ei­ther Ice­land or north­ern or eastern Europe.


The males of this stocky div­ing duck have rustyred heads, black breasts, and a pale grey back and flanks, con­trast­ing with the mostly brown fe­males. Over­win­ter­ing num­bers have dropped re­cently, with only around 38,000 pairs ar­riv­ing from breed­ing grounds in north­ern and eastern Europe and cen­tral Rus­sia.


The domed heads of the drake gold­en­eye ap­pear green­ish-black, with a cir­cu­lar white patch in front of that yel­low eye. This dif­fers from the choco­late-brown head of the smaller fe­males. While only about 200 pairs breed in Scot­land, the pop­u­la­tion bal­loons to over 25,000 across the UK in win­ter.


The black-and-white drakes of this diminu­tive div­ing duck are highly mem­o­rable and dif­fer from the fe­males – of­ten called ‘red­heads’ due to their red­dish-brown head plumes. The species doesn't breed here in the UK, and only about 200 make it an­nu­ally to Bri­tain’s col­lec­tion of reser­voirs.

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