Harteman Wildfowl, presented by Jan Harteman

White-winged wood duck

Asarcornis scutulata (Cairina scutulata)

Witvleugelboseend/ Malaienente/ Canard à ailes blanches

The White-winged Duck or White-winged Wood Duck (Asarcornis scutulata) is a large species of duck, formerly placed in the genus Cairina and allied with the dabbling ducks. However, mtDNA cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 sequence analysis and the biogeographicalpattern of distribution indicate that the anatomical similarity to the Muscovy Duck is deceiving. Thus, this species might more appropriately be placed in a monotypic genus, as Asarcornis scutulata, which appears to be unrelated to the Muscovy Duck but closer to the diving ducks.


This forest duck is listed as Endangered because it has a very small and fragmented population which is undergoing a very rapid and continuing decline as a result of the loss of and disturbance to riverine habitats.


Click here for a brief history of these ducks in captivity



Above: White headed White-winged wood duck at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, USA (2009)


The duck was historically widely distributed from north-eastern India and Bangladesh, through South-East Asia to Java and Sumatra, Indonesia. It has undergone a dramatic decline, such that its population is now estimated at c.1,000 individuals, comprising c.200 in LaosThailandVietnam and Cambodia, c.150 on Sumatra,Indonesia, c.450 in India (Choudhury 2000) and Bangladesh (A. Choudhury in litt. 2007) and in the "low hundreds" in Myanmar (J. C. Eames in litt. 2007) following the identification of a significant population numbering tens of individuals in the proposed Hukuang Tiger Reserve. It has also recently been recorded in Bhutan (Choudhury 2007). It continues to decline throughout its range, and is probably extinct in Malaysia and on Java. The only recent records from Vietnam are from watercourses in dry dipterocarp forest in Yok Don NP, where it is rare but probably under-recorded (Eames in litt. 2012). It is likely to be extirpated elsewhere due to widespread forest and wetland destruction. There are no confirmed recent records from Laos, however, a few birds probably survive in the Nam Theun catchment (W. Duckworth in litt. 2012). In Myanmar it is locally common on ox-bow lakes within the Chindwin basin (Tordoff et al. 2007). In India, it has been recorded from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur (no recent report), with unconfirmed reports from Tripura and Mizoram. Its current distribution is chiefly in the eastern lowlands of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh (A. Rahmani in litt. 2012). 


There has not been a comprehensive analysis of recent records, but estimates of c.450 in India (A. Choudhury in litt. 2007), low hundreds in Myanmar and c.100 in Cambodia (J. C. Eames in litt. 2007) combined with an earlier estimate of 150 in Indonesia suggest that the species's population may precautionarily be considered to lie within the band 250-999 mature individuals. This equates to 375-1,499 individuals in total, rounded here to 350-1,500 individuals.


It inhabits stagnant or slow-flowing natural and artificial wetlands, within or adjacent to evergreen, deciduous or swamp forests, on which it depends for roosting and nesting, usually in tree-holes. Although lowlands (below c.200 m) provide optimum habitat, it occurs up to 1,400 m, especially on plateaux supporting sluggish perennial rivers and pools.


Its decline is largely attributable to the destruction, degradation and disturbance of riverine habitats including loss of riparian forest corridors. The resultant small, fragmented populations are vulnerable to extinction from stochastic environmental events, loss of genetic variability, disturbance, hunting and collection of eggs and chicks for food or pets. Hydro-power development, inappropriate forest management, and pollution are more localised threats. It may be particularly susceptible to loss of large trees with nesting holes (W. Duckworth in litt. 2006).


Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust produced, and implements, an action plan for the species. In 1993, 21 protected areas were known to support populations. Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Assam, were established because of its importance for this species. Conservation awareness materials depicting it have been widely distributed in Laos and Cambodia.


Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct further surveys to clarify its distribution and status. Instigate regular monitoring of selected key populations. Promote strict enforcement of hunting regulations and minimise encroachment, disturbance and habitat degradation in all protected areas supporting populations. Campaign for increased protection of peat-swamp forest in Sumatra. Campaign against pesticide and oil pollution at key sites in north-east India. Promote widespread conservation awareness campaigns in and around key protected areas. Rapidly introduce the measures outlined above in newly discovered strongholds, e.g. northern Myanmar.


More information: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/100600410/0



Above: White-winged wood ducks at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, UK (2016)

Left male, right female.



A brief history of the first white-winged wood ducks known in captivity

From: A Natural History of the Ducks (1922, John C. Phillips), Volume I

Behaviour in Captivity. Baker kept many of these birds in confinement. They tamed very readily and did not attempt to fly off except at the approach of the breeding season. In fact, after having been thus tamed, they never made use of their wings, but walked long distances to and from the water, as much as half a mile in one case. Their gait, and their style of swimming according to Finn (1915) are different from those of the Comb ducks and sheldrakes, and resemble rather those of the true ducks. The swelling of the drake's bill in the spring is similar to what takes place in the common sheldrake. Baker's birds died very quickly when sent to the Calcutta Zoological Gardens and in his aviaries always kept out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. even in the cool weather. He found them very well behaved and never quarrelsome. Probably if Baker's birds had nested in confinement, they would have become more pugnacious. Some lesser whistling duck (Dendrocygna javanica) shared the same yard and never came to any harm. When not feeding, the White-winged wood ducks almost invariably sat on perches, but they kept their position chiefly by balance of the body, never by grasping of the feet. These caged birds very seldon called, except occasionally in April and May. One female which died in June contained eggs larger than those of a hen. The birds paired regularly in May, the base of the drake's bill becoming swollen and red, but the ducks never laid any eggs. 


Finn (1915) remarks that a single female in the London Zoological Gardens often made a spiritful grab at some smaller waterfowl. In 1851 the London Zoological Gardens received two specimens from Mr. Blyth, but there was none living in the Gardens in 1883 (Sclater, 1883). In 1905, five specimens arrived in England and were sold for twenty pounds the couple (Hubbard, 1907). So far as I know, no living specimens have been received in America (Phillips, 1922).


Mr. Blaauw tells me that he saw living specimens of this duck some years ago on the Duke of Bedford's estate in Engeland (Phillips, 1922), and that they did not live many years. He was much struck with the Muscovy-like appearance of the species. 


Domestication. There are various references to mottled or piebald specimens from Sumatra and Java, and these have been explained on the assumption that the birds were breeding in domestication. This, however, seems to me very impropable because the species has given no evidence of easy domestication. There are instances of considerable changes of plumage after many years of captivity which may account for these freak plumages. The possibility of a distinct southern race (leucoptera) of this species as suggested by Hume and Marshall (1879) still exists. 



From: The White-winged Wood Duck, M. J. S. Mackenzie and Janet Kear (Wildfowl, 1976)

White-winged Wood Duck have never been common in captivity, although a pair was exhibited at the London Zoo as early as 1851 (Sclater 1880). Others were held from time to time in England, the Netherlands and in France. Baker (1908, 1921) kept many birds in confinement in Assam, and sent some to Calcutta Zoo. None bred until 1936 when the female of a pair, imported two years earlier to a waterfowl collection near Rotterdam, laid eggs from which five ducklings were hatched and reared. They had been kept in a small pen, measuring 15m x 15m, shaded by trees and long grass, and containing a small central pond (Schuyl, 1937). 

A shipment of ten Wood Duck to the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge, England, from Thailand was made in 1955 but none of these birds nested. Then in 1969, as part of World Wildlife Fund Project 406, M.J.S.Mackenzie sent five males and one female (hand-reared from wildcaught ducklings in Upper Assam) to the Wildfowl Trust, and these were joined by two more males and four females in 1970.

The second breeding in captivity occurred at Slimbridge in 1971 ; the first captive-bred female to lay did so at the Trust’s refuge at Peakirk in 1973, and in 1974 a pair, both members of
which were second-generation captives, bred at Slimbridge.



From: The Waterfowl of the World (1959, Peter Scott), Volume III

White winged wood ducks have always been scarce in captivity, although they came to the London Zoo as early as 1951. They usually arrive in a weak condition; once acclimatized, they live well and long. They eat grain, but also need some animal food, and they readily catch very small fish. They prove hardy, like Muscovies, but unlike the latter, they never molest other birds and do not fight between themselves if sufficient space is allowed them. They never nested at Clères, nor at Foxwarren, and the only record of breeding in captivity is that of D.G. Schuyl, in Holland, in 1936. A pair imported in 1934, placed in a pen of 50 x 50 feet, with some trees, long grass, and small poll in the middel, were first very shy, but later on became tame. In May, after two years, the female went into a box set about three feet above the ground and laid seven eggs, wich hatched under a domestic hen. M. Schuyl describes (L'Oiseau, 1936, pp. 171-172) the eggs as greenish yellow, rather long and relatively small. The incubation period was about thirty days, the eggs having been slightly incubated before removal. The chicks' first plumage is described as dark brown, the head and neck deeper than the body, the bill lead grey tinged with reddish brown, the legs very dark brown. They grey rapidly and at two months began to assume the dress of adults. Five were reared. There are, at present, few specimens living in the Wildfowl Trust collection.



Above: white-winged wood ducks as pictured in Siergevogelte (1941, C.S. th. van Gink).
This is probably Schuyl's breeding pair (1936) - world's first breeding pair described, or some of their offspring. 




Above: White headed White-winged wood duck at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, USA (2005)



Above: Pied headed White-winged wood duck at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, USA (2005)



Above: Both pied and white headed White-winged wood duck at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, USA (2005)



Above: White-winged wood duck at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, UK (2016)



Above: Group of White-winged wood ducks at a Dutch private collection (2012)



Above: The author and a winged-winged wood duck female (2015)



Above: suitable nestboxes for white-winged wood ducks (at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, NC, USA, 2016)



Above: white-winged duckling (1 day old)



Above: white-winged duck female and ducklings at Harteman Wildfowl (2018)



Above: white-winged duck female and ducklings at Harteman Wildfowl (2018).



Above: white-winged duckling, one month old, at Harteman Wildfowl (2018).



Above: white-winged ducks at two months of age, at Harteman Wildfowl (2018). 


Above: white-winged wood duck preening and courtship


Above: footage of the white-winged duck breeding project in the USA (2016).



White-winged wood duck is hiding something... at Harteman Wildfowl (2018)

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