Monday, May 3, 2010

The mad courtship of the Cotton Pygymy-goose

The Cotton Pygmy-goose is India's smallest Anatid (a group of birds comprising ducks and geese). The males are incredibly pretty, and the females are drab - characteristic of Anatids. One cloudy early morning, I chanced upon several small flocks spread out on a large lake. They appeared to be engaged in courtship. In this entry, I share my observation and attempts to photograph their mad yet delightful behaviour.

Each female - apparently unpaired as yet - was chased by 2-4 loudly honking males across the lake. Females appeared to be attempting to escape the loud and boisterous masculine efforts. But they kept up with her as she weaved around the lake. Above, the female is being pursued by four gorgeous males.

The female landed several times, perhaps tired, perhaps attempting to dissuade the males from further pursuit.

The female attempted also to take off again several times, and her troubles only grew as a result. All the males, honking their protest, gave chase.

They tried to ward her off, and females seldom managed to fly free again after the first landing.

The nearest male then physically dunked her back onto the water! Above, the female is on the extreme left hidden by the male who is pecking at her to force her to land on the water again.

The female then was in real danger of being drowned as the enthusiastic males rushed at her, frequently landing on top of her. The female was under water many times, as the males splashed around vying for her to choose them. The water churned madly as the males appeared to be nearly killing the female they were fighting to get.

Then suddenly and quite mysteriously, a partner had been chosen. He swam around her in slow circles with head bent forwards in a graceful bow, and the other males swam away honking their obvious disapproval.

Was this going to be her partner for the year? What was better about him compared to the other males who appeared as robust, noisy and interested? Another bird mystery that awaits study.

(All photographs taken on 02 May 2010 at Samaspur Bird Sanctuary, Rae Bareli.)