Baer’s Pochards

BAER’S POCHARD (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) was once abundant in east Asia..  now it is listed as “Critically Endangered” due to an, as yet unexplained, calamitous population decline.  The only known breeding site is not in the far northeast of China or in Russia (previously understood to be the species stronghold) but instead in Hebei Province, not far from Beijing.

Yesterday I visited the site and found at least 24 of these beautiful ducks on site, most of which seem paired up and ready to breed.  Worryingly, at least two birds appeared to be hybrids with the closely-related Ferruginous Duck, a common breeder at the same site.

I recorded this video compilation of a male displaying to a (seemingly uninterested) female…  It was almost comical seeing him try in vain to attract her attention.  Let’s hope she is more interested soon – we need them to make babies!

I am in discussions with the Beijing Birdwatching Society about submitting a grant application to the Oriental Bird Club conservation fund to set up a project to monitor Baer’s Pochard at this site…  We know almost nothing about this bird and its habitat requirements.. so fingers crossed we secure some resources.

Video recorded using an iPhone 5 with the Swarovski ATS95 telescope and iPhone adaptor.


7 thoughts on “Baer’s Pochards”

  1. Hi Terry. Where about in Hebei Province did you see the Pochards- or is that classified? I was there for a month last Oct. and hope to go back next year when i hope we might meet up for a day’s birding. Richard King

    1. Thanks for the comment Niall.. and for the link. I had not seen that. There are a few volunteers from the Beijing Birdwatching Society who are keen to participate in a monitoring/conservation project at the site in Hebei Province and we are hopeful of securing the (modest) funding to enable this work to happen. On the subject of hybrids, inter-breeding is clearly a risk. I counted over 60 Ferruginous Ducks at this site and there were several mixed flocks loafing on the lake… A couple of the birds I saw were suspected hybrids, including a male with a chestnut crown (otherwise looking like a classic male Baer’s). I have some more photos and video footage of one of the suspected hybrids, so I will post or comment again once I have had time to process them. There MUST be other breeding grounds somewhere in NE China but the site in Hebei is clearly hugely important and, critically, it is also accessible and has protected status, so it’s the ideal place to undertake some much-needed research about the requirements of Baer’s Pochard. Let’s keep in touch on this! Terry

  2. 24 no’s is really a promising no for this species. Hope, it can be brought back from the verge of extinction. Great job Terry, i’m sure you have some action plan.

    1. Thanks Max. I am not sure of the full range of variability of male Baer’s in breeding plumage.. but, in my experience in Beijing and Hebei, the majority of adult males in breeding plumage do not have any chestnut on the head but instead show a uniform green sheen. So chestnut on the head may be a sign of mixed genes… or, as the folk at WWT recently suggested, it may be a sign of a first summer male? In terms of how long hybridisation has been an issue, it’s only relatively recently that Ferruginous Duck has spread north and east, so the ranges of these two closely-related ducks have probably remained distinct until the last few years.. but that is only speculation as we have no hard data.

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