common sheldrake

common sheldrake defined in 1930 year

common sheldrake - Common Sheldrake;
common sheldrake - Beak and basal knob bright red; head and upper neck dark glossy green, followed by a white collar, below which is a chestnut band; wing-coverts white; speculum green; scapulars, part of the secondaries, and the primaries black; rump, upper tail-coverts, and tail-feathers white, the latter tipped with black; lower, central line of the breast and belly dark brown, the rest of the under parts white; legs and feet pink. Length, twenty-six inches. The female is without the knob at the base of the bill, and her colours are not so bright.

The sheldrakes, or sheld-ducks, are curious and interesting birds, and form a connecting-link between the geese and ducks; but they are more like the former than the latter, and sheld-gander, or sheld- goose, would perhaps be a more suitable name. The common sheldrake is, perhaps, the most duck-like in appearance of all the birds of this genus, and the common name, sheld, which means parti-coloured, really applies to this species only. As in the geese, the male and female sheld-ducks are nearly alike in plumage, and the male does not change colour; and, like the gander, he assists his mate in rearing the young. In the true ducks the drake changes his plumage in summer, becoming like the female in colour, and in most cases (for there are exceptions) he remains apart from the duck from the time that incubation begins until the young are fully grown. Of the seven known species of sheldrake, only one is indigenous to the British Islands. A second species, the ruddy sheldrake (Tadoma casarca), is a rare visitor, or straggler, to our coasts, and it is probable that most of the sheldrakes of this species that are shot from time to time in England are escaped birds.

The common sheldrake is a bird that, once seen, cannot be easily forgotten, its strange guinea-pig arrangement of three colours - black white, and red - making it one of the most strikingly conspicuous fowls in this country. On account of its handsome and singular colouring it is much persecuted, and as a breeding species is becoming increasingly rare with us. It inhabits sandy sea-coasts, and is only seen as a rare straggler on inland waters. It feeds close to the shore where the sea is shallow, and is partial to coasts where wide stretches of sand, mixed with rocks, are uncovered at low water. It feeds, both in the water and on the flats, on marine insects and molluscs, and breeds in the sandhills along the coast. The nesting- hole is in most cases a deserted rabbit-burrow, but it also burrows for itself, and is known as the ' burrow-duck ' on many parts of the coast. The hole is six to twelve feet in length, ending in a chamber lined with dry grass and moss. Seven to twelve creamy white eggs are laid, sometimes a larger number. The eggs are enveloped in a quantity of down, which the bird plucks from her own body. It is said that the male takes no part in incubation, but remains near the burrow on guard, and gives timely warning of danger, and when the young are hatched and taken to the sea, assists in rearing and protecting them.

The sheldrake has a harsh cry, but in the breeding season the drake utters a soft, tremulous, whistling note.

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