Common Pochard: Vulnerable Wildlife in Japan

I wanted to write a profile on the common pochard species because it is one I encounter on a near-daily basis. I’ve always been fascinated with their appearance and how close they allow me to get when photographing birds.

Last year I learned that they are now deemed a vulnerable species and are on the decline globally. It’s obviously a shame when this happens to any species, but this is one that I’m very familiar with and have even noticed a decline in the wintering numbers here in Kobe, Japan.

For the past three years I have cycle commuted to work and everyday pass over the Ikuta River in Kobe. I cycle past the spot where the river meets Kobe Harbor and this sheltered part of the harbor has been the winter home for large numbers of pochards.

 

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Male common pochard
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Female common pochard

Appearance:

The common pochard is a medium-sized bird. The male is slightly larger than the female. The male pochard has a long black bill with a grey band. The head and neck are red and the breast is black. The back is grey. The female is brown bodied and has a narrow bill band.

 

Distribution:

The pochard species are disturbed in Europe and northern Asia. Pochards migrate to Africa, South and South East Asia and the Indian Subcontinent for wintering but some remain sedentary in areas of Europe and North Asia with milder climates.

In the Kansai region of Japan, small numbers of pochards remain for the entire year, but their numbers dramatically increase during late fall and winter.

 

Habitat:

The common pochard species prefers open waters, more than one meter in depth. The can be found in marshes, lakes, slow flowing rivers, reservoirs, sheltered coastal bays, lagoons and tidal estuaries.

 

Feeding habits:

Common pochards tend to do their feeding at night. They feed by diving and dabbling. They eat aquatic invertebrates, aquatic plants, small fish and mulluscs.

They up-end for food (dabbling) as well as their more characteristic diving.

When I pass by flocks of them in the morning they tend to be sleeping.

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Male common pochard resting on some rocks in Kobe Harbor in Kobe, Japan.

Ecology:

Common pochards are very social ducks, forming large flocks in winter, often mixed with other ducks. During my time birding in Japan I’ve observed them mixing with tufted ducks, spot-billed ducks as well as mallards, greater scaups and Eurasian wigeons.

 

Breeding:

The breeding season for this species is in April and May. They construct nests on the ground near water’s edge concealed in waterside vegetation. They sometimes make nests on floating mats of reeds.

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Just a few years ago the common pochard’s conservation status was listed as “Least Concern” because populations were deemed healthy. Recently their numbers have been declining globally in in places like the U.K. the decline has been alarming. They are now deemed to be a “Vulnerable” species due to this global decline in numbers. In the United Kingdom they are actually deemed “Red List Vulnerable” which means the situation is quite serious.

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Common pochards are another wonderful example of the nature Japan has to offer. If you’re in Japan, next time you head out near the water take a look for this fascinating little duck.

 

 

Information for this post: birdlife.org, Wikipedia, British Trust for Ornithology, Birds of India, my own observations as a birder.

 

About the writer:

Kevin O’Shea is a Canadian PYP (elementary school) teacher at an international school in Kobe, Japan. He is a podcaster, birder and insect enthusiast.

Check out his Birds of Kansai Facebook page for lots of great nature photography and information about wildlife and the beauty of Japan.

Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev

 

All photos were taken by Kevin O’Shea unless otherwise stated.

 

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