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Bird of the Month: The Shelduck

Regulars | By John McEwen

How often a coastal winter train journey is made memorable by the flag-flying glimpse of a shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) along the tideline or far out on mudflats.  It is the pied plumage, exceptionally the same for male and female, which gives its name (from the Dutch sheld, ‘variegated’), although shellfish do form a large part of its diet. Shelduck are sturdy (2lbs), sedate, slow-winged birds and, although classified as a duck, are placed in bird guides among the geese.  They have none of the low-slung, streamlined and flying urgency of duck. Colloguial names, such as skeel goose, links goose and ringer goose, long ago made the association. The predominance of white is what catches the eye. A closer view reveals the striking arrangement of broad, rust-orange, breast band, back and under-tail; bottle-green head and wing flashes (specula), black pinions, a sealing-wax scarlet bill and longish pink legs, which they stamp...

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