Horrible Hybrids – 10,000 Birds

As a basic rule, birders don’t like hybrids. For a begin, they might battle to determine them, whereas secondly they’ll’t even tick them. On BirdTrack, the British equal of e-Fowl, the checklist of birds offered does enable for Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck to be recorded, however not Tufted Duck x Pochard. Nonetheless, that’s precisely what I guessed the duck swimming in entrance of me needed to be. It was consorting with massive flock of primarily drake Pochards, and as its behaviour was an identical to its companions, as was its dimension and form, it didn’t instantly stand out. Nonetheless, there had been stories of a Scaup blended in with the flock, which at first look I assumed this chicken may be. As quickly as I checked out it extra carefully it was fairly clear that it wasn’t a scaup of any species, regardless of its resemblance to a North American Lesser Scaup. The latter, by the way in which, is a uncommon however common vagrant to the British Isles, first recorded right here in 1987, however seen yearly in recent times.

Appears like a scaup of some type, however it’s not fairly proper

My chicken definitely had the peaked crown attribute of a Lesser Scaup; the feathers on its head appeared black at a distance, whereas nearer inspection revealed a purple sheen. Nonetheless, as you’ll be able to see clearly from my {photograph}, the again feathers had been finely vemiculated, in contrast to the quite coarser vermiculation on the American chicken. Lesser Scaup has solely a slight black tip to the beak, whereas this chicken had a transparent black band. My hunch was Tufted Duck x Pochard.

The iris color is just not proper for a Lesser or Larger Scaup, and neither is the band on the tip of the beak

Not many subject guides are useful in the case of hybrids, however the Collins Fowl Information will get full marks because of a double-page unfold of Pochard hybrids, fantastically illustrated by Killian Mullarney. Lars Svensson’s accompanying textual content explains “a quite puzzling reality is that, amongst wildfowl, hybrids seem to happen extra generally amongst geese and members of the ‘pochards’, genus Aythya, than amongst dabbling geese. The explanation for this isn’t clear.” He goes on to recommend that when finding out a hybrid duck, “all the time play shut consideration to: sample, dimension and form of invoice; iris color; form of head seen in profile; and presence or not of high-quality vermiculation on gray or grey-brown components.”

Word the high-quality vemiculations on the again, a attribute of drake Tufted Duck x duck Pochard

Seven completely different hybrids are proven within the Information, together with Tufted Duck drake x Pochard duck. The outline is uncannily correct for the duck in my {photograph}. I hadn’t thought of the attainable parentage greater than the 2 possible species concerned, however intriguingly a Pochard drake x Tufted duck appears to be like fairly completely different. Svensson notes that Tufted drake x Pochard duck is “now a well known hybrid”. Additional analysis revealed the Fowl Hybrids weblog (http://birdhybrids.blogspot.com) has a number of revealing images of this (and lots of different) hybrids. 

I photographed the chicken proven right here on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Belief reserve at Welney on the Ouse Washes (Cambridgeshire, UK) in November. Intriguingly, I had additionally photographed an identical hybrid chicken right here in February this yr (see image under). Was it the identical particular person? My guess is that it in all probability was. The place it had spent the summer time is anybody’s guess, however the majority of the Pochard that winter within the UK come from Japanese Europe and Russia, with birds ringed in Latvia being significantly quite a few. 

May this chicken, photographed in February 2023, be the identical particular person because the one above photographed in November?

Hybridisation could also be uncommon amongst wild wildfowl, however is widespread in captivity the place birds have significantly much less selection of potential companions. I’ve seen some weird-looking hybrids in duck collections. A few years in the past a pal of mine stored a small however various assortment of geese and geese. One yr he was very excited when his feminine Hawaiian Goose hatched 4 wholesome goslings, the primary time he had managed to breed this species. Nonetheless, as they feathered up it was clear that one thing was incorrect. Sadly, they weren’t pure Hawaiians, however hybrids with a Barnacle Goose. Each geese are fairly carefully associated as they’re members of the genus Branta, which additionally contains the Redbreasted Goose, Brent Goose, Cackling Goose and Canada Goose.

No prizes for guessing this can be a Canada Goose x Greylag

Not that geese must be members of the identical genus to hybridise. I repeatedly see wild hybrids of Canada Goose x Greylag Goose (a Branta with an Anser). Why the 2 species ought to mate is a thriller, however the ensuing offspring is straightforward to determine as my {photograph} exhibits. I believe that they might be fertile, too, however that’s one thing I’m not sure about. They’re not handsome birds, so they might battle to draw a companion. Charles Darwin was most involved when he found that hybrids between Greylag and Swan Geese had been fully fertile, as his early definition of a species was that one species didn’t interbreed with one other. 

My most memorable encounter with a non-wildfowl hybrid was some years in the past in Finland, after I was taken to a Blackgrouse lek the place two cock Racklehahns had been current. The Racklehahn is a well known hybrid between a male Blackgrouse and feminine Capercaillie. These two Racklehahns had been fairly completely different. One was a good-looking chicken that confirmed options of each dad and mom, whereas the opposite was a distinctly ugly-looking blighter. Alas, I wasn’t in a position to spend enough time watching them to see if they’d any success with the assembled Blackgrouse hens. This was earlier than the times of digital pictures, too, so I didn’t take any images. Nonetheless, if you wish to know what a Racklehahn appears to be like like, check out The Fowl Hybrids Weblog which has some nice images. 

A falconer’s Peregrine hybrid, however what’s was its full parentage?

Falconers found a number of many years in the past that hybrid falcons have additional vigour, so with the assistance of synthetic insemination some unlikely hybrids have been produced. Peregrine crosses are hottest, usually with Gyr or Saker Falcons, whereas I’ve even seen birds that had been an unlikely cross between a Peregrine and a Merlin. When these hybrid falcons escape into the wild, as they generally do, they invariably create an actual identification problem. A Saker x Peregrine can look very very similar to a dark-phase Gyr, whereas Saker x Gyr usually resemble the latter. Happily, falcons don’t (as far we all know) hybridise within the wild, whereas so far as I’m conscious no one has studied the influence of escaped hybrids on wild populations.

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