The Pink-eared duck is an unmistakable duck due to both its physical outline and its prominent vertical striping and remarkable long bill with an underside projection at its extremity. The bill is designed for filter feeding in shallow water. A dark face patch surrounds the eye which is located in a white ring and a small pink patch is located at the ear. The back and wings are dark brown. The species is highly nomadic in the wild and large numbers may appear in response to localised flooding in otherwise arid regions.
Pink-eared ducks are a common species occurring throughout Australia’s drier inland regions when suitable conditions exist. The species exploits ephemeral lakes in the arid regions breeding after heavy rainfall which has resulting in inundation of shallow lakes. They appear to have a preference for shallow watercourses and are occasionally visitors to coastal wetlands.
Breeding may occur at any time of year during suitable conditions and they may breed all year when suitable conditions prevail. Ideal breeding conditions occur after inundation of shallow lakes when food is abundant.
The nest site is generally located within a metre of the water surface. Pink-eared ducks do not build a nest but appropriate disused nests of Black-tailed native hens and other species. Nests generally are located in Lignum growing in water. Occasionally Pink-eared ducks utilise a low hollow tree stump with its base located in water. Nests are always sited over water.
Usually 5 to 8 but as many as 10 oval eggs may be laid. Eggs are creamy white smooth and lustreless. A large quantity of dark down is used to cover the eggs. The down covering provides security for the eggs and insulation when the ducks vacate the nest whilst feeding. The down clings together and possesses a “sticky’ quality which prevents it from being dislodged from the nest.
Pink eared ducks are filter feeders and their diet is composed microscopic aquatic vegetation and animals. Feeding is accomplished as they filter feed, moving slowly in the water with their heads submerged for considerable periods. They are generally observed feeding in groups in formation presumably filtering small aquatic insects disturbed by adjacent birds. In captivity they can be maintained on grain based pelletised food and wet mashes. A range of chopped greens should be included in their diet. Water should always be available for both drinking and bathing.
Pink eared ducks are an attractive waterfowl species that have been kept in captivity. They require access to a large expanse of shallow water.
Licencing requirement should be established for the state involved.
Text by John Urane and photography by David Taylor