Athena Georgiou kindly supplied us with some sensational photographs of a Wandering Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arcuate australis) sighted at Herdsman Lake.
This is an unusual sighting for Perth as they are usually found in large flocks in the North of Australia, particularly around Kakadu. It happened to be enjoying the company of well over 100 Grey Teal and Eurasian Coots, which have been congregating at the edge of the mudflats.
The common name, Whistling-duck, was given by John Gould in 1848, and was the name commonly used by colonists at the time and true to their names this bird makes a call, particularly in flight, that is high in pitch, almost a trembling, whistle call, quite unusual. The Wandering bit was added later to distinguish it from the Plumed Whistling-duck D. eytoni and the Spotted Whistling-duck D. guttata, which are also found in Australia’s north. This bird possibly gets its ‘wandering’ name from its movements between the wet and dry seasons in the far north of the country (for WA, this is a bird typically found in the Kimberley area) or it may be from the fact that it is also widely found outside of Australia in PNG, Indonesia and the Philippines (the sub-species name australis indicates that this is the Australian or southern version of the bird).
Its beautiful rich chestnut brown colour and dark cap atop its head, with what resembles a mini-mullet to the back of its head (in reality a darkened patch of feathers) is part of the reason it has a species name of arcuate which means ‘bow’, making it easily picked at Herdsman, amongst the mass of birds it is currently hanging with.
Wandering Whistling-ducks breed in the north of Australia, typically January to March during the tropical ‘wet’ season of the north (November to April), producing a high number of cream coloured eggs, 8-10 but sometimes even more. This abundance of eggs is described as an ‘r- selection’ strategy that some birds employ (i.e. high number of offspring who have a relatively low probability of surviving to adulthood, as opposed to a K- selection strategy with has low offspring numbers, but with close parental care, produce high survival rates). They nest on the ground in long grass, usually in proximity to water, but far enough away so as not to have the nest flooded. The birds are monomorphic, a Greek word meaning ‘single-form’, so the male and female birds are so similar they are difficult to tell apart, so we can’t tell the gender of the Herdsman bird.
What is it doing at Herdsman? Who knows? There were earlier reports of a similar bird at North Lake and Lake Monger, so maybe it’s just cruising around and feeding up after such a long flight. Maybe it is escaping the northern heat, which continues to soar into the mid-30s. All we know it makes a really interesting bird to watch and enjoy, and to tick if you are into keeping a list of birds you spot. So get down to Herdsman soon, before the winter chill sets in and it heads off in search of warmer climes.