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THE COMB DUCK

28 November 2013

www.leopard.tv

The specific epithet of the comb duck’s scientific name Sakidiornis melanotus refers to the Greek word melanotus which means black-backed. An adult male is around 75 cm high and weighs 1.92 kg as opposed to 60 cm an 1.41 kg in females. Only the adult males have a characteristic laterally flattened meaty comb on the end of the upper bill. The male is also characteristically black on the back of the neck, the back and the tail. The crown is iridescent green. There is a white mantle around the top of the neck. The under parts are white, the bill is black, the eyes are brown and the legs and feet grey- brown. The adult female is paler in colour than the male and its upper mandible does not have a comb.

The comb duck is abundant in Africa south of the Sahara but in South Africa it only occurs north of an east-west line through southern Lesotho. It is less abundant in Botswana and Namibia but occurs widely in Asia and tropical South America. It migrates to northern Africa in the winter. It mainly occurs in pairs, or as a male and several females, and is mostly active early in the morning. It swims with a humped back and the tail held above the water and feeds mostly in mud or strips seeds with the bill from grasses that grow in shallow water. Comb ducks feed mostly on water insects and floating plants.

The males are highly territorial and maintain a territory with vague boundaries for some 150 m around several females. The male entices a female to mate by standing or swimming in shallow water with the head and neck stretched out over the water. Comb ducks nest in a cavity (often in a dead tree) or in old hamerkop nests. The nesting cavity is some 200 mm in diameter and the female forms a bowl-shaped hollow in the grey down with which it lines the nest. The nest is usually close to water but it can be up to 2 km away from it. Mating varies regionally as it occurs from February to April in the Kruger National Park but in December and January in KwaZulu-Natal. It lays 6 to 14 eggs (the latter probably laid by two females). The eggs are oval and ivory to creamy yellow and incubate in 28 to 30 days. The chicks weigh 58 g upon hatching.

 

 

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (eds) 2005. Roberts – birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp 98 - 99.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

 

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