Bird Photo Challenge #12: Pink-Eared Duck

During a wander through the Lake Borrie Wetlands near Melbourne with photographer Leanne Cole, we spotted an odd looking and very distinctive waterbird: the Pink-Eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus). This unmistakeable and spectacular duck, so different looking to any other, had to take pride of place as the star of #12 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

Pink-Eared Ducks Pair

Two males in flight

The Pink-Eared Duck is a small duck, about 36 to 40cms, with a huge square-tipped beak and striped sides.  It is very quirky!   It has a large brown patch around his eye and the drake has a small spot of pink feathers behind the eye which gives it its name.  What is most noticeable about this duck though, is the zebra like striping – fine around the face, bold on the flanks.  The upper parts of the wings are brown, whereas the underwings are white, barred dark brown.  When seen in flight, the tail tip and trailing edge of the wings are white, as is a narrow crescent-shaped band on the rump.  

Did you know?

The duck’s odd shaped bill evolved to feed in a specialized manner. Water is sucked through the bill tip, and then expelled through soft grooves along the side of the beak, filtering through microscopic plants and animals in the process.  The scientific name Malacorhynchus actually means “soft beak”.

How does it behave?

Pink-Eared Ducks perching

Perching on a log

The Pink-Eared Duck is often seen perching out of the water, on logs or branches as shown in this photo.  It  feeds in shallow waters on tiny invertebrates, crustaceans and insects. It prefers stagnant water, rich in aquatic life.   It is a filter feeder, using its bill to strain minute organisms.  It can also feed by creating a vortex: two ducks spin around a central point with the tail of one opposite the head of the other, concentrating food in a rotating water column. Unlike other ducks, it does not up-end at all.

Breeding can happen any time during the year and is dependent on flood waters.  Male and female Pink-Eared Ducks form life-long bonds.  The female incubate the eggs and both parents raise the young.

Where is it found?

Endemic to Australia, the Pink-Eared Duck is found in inland swamps where huge flocks can assemble. It tends to avoid coastal wetlands with high rainfall.  It is a nomadic specie, and is very mobile, flying large distances in search of water.  There can be hundreds of these ducks in one location one day, and they can be gone the next. The photos were taken at the Lake Borrie Wetlands in February this year, using a Canon 60D camera and EF100-400L lens.  This was a new sighting for me.  I had never seen these ducks before. As usual, click on the first image to display the gallery in full screen slide show.

25 thoughts on “Bird Photo Challenge #12: Pink-Eared Duck

    • Hey Trev, that duck poops in your general direction! The ears weren’t much… just a tiny pink dot on the drake, but the bill, now that was odd! No good for eating though, as opposed to the Peking duck! 🙂

  1. Great pictures and the bill indeed looks kind of funny 😉 reminds me a bit of the spoon bill bill. As a biologist I can’t hold back this remark: when stating a species name you usually put the genus (so the first part) with a capital letter and the species (the second part) with a small letter 🙂

    • Thank you for the biologist’s tip, I will correct and get it right for the other birdies too. 🙂 And yes that duck has a bit of a funny, silly look!

  2. A fabulous post Chris – so interesting and informative. Ive never seen these ducks before. They are quirky and really interesting 😃

  3. Well captured, Chris! What appealing-looking birds, and wildly marked! Their bills remind me of our Northern Shovelers, who have similar feeding techniques, filtering their food and creating vortices, altho your ducks’ bill tips are a bit more extreme and squarer. Informative post, thanks!

  4. Great shots of an odd-looking duck, especially the in-flight shots, which are so tough to get. The duck is such an interesting combination of strange shapes and colors–it almost looks like it is a cartoon character for a chlldren’s show.

  5. I have never seen a pink eared duck and their bill is so different and colours unique. Great pleasure for me to read this. Sue

    • I was wondering whether you had ever seen them, Sue! It was such a surprise when I looked at them through my lens in disbelief… “What on earth is that?” – straight to the Wetland Birds app, and there was the answer!

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