Story: Wetland birds

Page 8. Grey ducks, shovelers and scaup

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Grey duck – pārera

The grey duck or pārera (Anas superciliosa) is a large, finely proportioned duck with tapered dark eye-lines and contrasting pale eyebrows. It is 55 centimetres long. Males weigh around 1.1 kilograms and females 1 kilogram.

Distribution

Also known as the Pacific black duck, the grey duck is native to New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia and the southern Pacific. The most numerous duck before Europeans settled in New Zealand, it was harvested by Māori after the end of the breeding season, following strict protocols.

Grey ducks were still the most common dabbling duck in New Zealand up to the 1950s, but as introduced mallards became established the two species have interbred. Numbers of grey ducks dropped from 1.5 million in 1970 to fewer than 500,000 in the 1990s. Loss of wetlands is another factor in their decline. They are partially protected, and are hunted in season.

Grey ducks are found all over New Zealand, including on the subantarctic, Chatham and Kermadec islands. It is uncertain whether any of the remaining birds are pure-bred, or whether all now carry some mallard genes.

Habitat

Small lakes, slow streams or tidal waterways in forest are grey ducks’ preferred habitat. They have not taken to farmland or urban surroundings.

A glutton for mud

Māori sometimes called a greedy person ‘he pārera apu paru’, meaning ‘a pārera that gobbles mud’.

Feeding

Grey ducks feed by sieving seeds from the water through lamellae (short comb-like fringes) along the edges of their bill. They also eat aquatic vegetation, or graze above the shoreline. Ducklings eat aquatic invertebrates.

Australasian shoveler – kuruwhengu

The Australasian shoveler (Anas rhynchotis) is native to New Zealand and Australia. It is named because of its long, broad scoop-shaped bill with lamellae – ideal for sieving fine aquatic plants, invertebrates and seeds close to the surface of water or mud. With its bill submerged, the shoveler sieves as it swims – giving rise to the Māori name kuruwhengu, meaning to snuffle.

Small elongated ducks, Australasian shovelers are about 49 centimetres long and weigh 650 grams (males) or 600 grams (females). They fly swiftly on long narrow wings, sometimes travelling nearly the length of the country.

Habitat

They prefer shallow, fertile wetlands fringed with raupō (bulrush). Flocks of up to 1,000 birds form on large lakes, where they engage in courtship in July and August (winter). Then pairs head off to establish a breeding territory.

Population

The New Zealand population was around 150,000 in 1980. They are partially protected, with around 30,000 killed each duck-shooting season. Some shovelers head out to sea to avoid being shot.

New Zealand scaup – pāpango

The New Zealand scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae) is a little diving duck with glossy dark-brown plumage. It was formerly known as the black teal. Its huge webbed feet are the secret behind its diving prowess. Scaup’s legs are set back on the body and splayed, which makes them good divers but clumsy on land. They swim about underwater to depths of 3 metres, feeding on aquatic plants, freshwater snails and other invertebrates.

Among the smallest New Zealand ducks, scaup are around 40 centimetres long and weigh 650 grams. Males have yellow eyes, and a darker body than females.

Population

Scaup numbers declined since European settlement, but have begun to recover in some regions. Planting low-hanging vegetation along waterways to provide cover has helped in some urban areas.

An endemic species (found only in New Zealand), New Zealand scaup have been fully protected since 1935. They are sparsely scattered across the North and South islands, the total population being about 20,000.

How to cite this page:

Christina Troup, 'Wetland birds - Grey ducks, shovelers and scaup', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/wetland-birds/page-8 (accessed 18 September 2019)

Story by Christina Troup, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 17 Feb 2015