Hardhead

Male hardhead. Note the white-eye. Females have dark eyes.

Male hardhead. Note the white-eye. Females have dark eyes.

Hardheads are also called White-eyed Ducks or White-winged ducks. I am not sure why they are called Hardheads. Perhaps they have significantly harder heads or skulls than other ducks. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if they did, since they are Australia’s only deep diving duck. They inhabit deep waters, but leave them as they become shallower. As a result hardheads were abundant in the wetlands after the 2012 flood, but disappeared during the summer of 2013 as evaporation started to tell over rainfall.

Hardheads are medium sized ducks that are reasonably common in any deep water lakes, ponds or dams in the Goulburn district. Their main food consists of things that live on or near the bottom of such waterways, such as deep water plants, mussels and other invertebrates. They are said to scrape their beaks along the bottom, searching for food.

Male and female hardheads. Note the white bottoms and the difference in eye color. The male is at the rear, behind two females.

Male and female hardheads. Note the white bottoms and the difference in eye color. The male is at the rear, behind two females.

Hardheads are dark brown ducks and the males can have particularly glossy chestnut breasts with darker heads. Only the males have white eyes: females have dark coloured eyes. Unlike many other species of duck, hardheads don’t often make conspicuous calls. The male has a soft wheeze, while the female has a much louder “gaark” sound, a little like the wood duck. Hardheads have bright white rumps.

A male hardhead displaying. You can easily see the white stripe along his wing.

A male hardhead displaying in the wetlands. You can easily see the white stripe along his wing.

When their wings are outstretched you can see a distinct white stripe along the edge (the primaries). When swimming away from you their distinctive white rumps easily distinguish them from other ducks.

They seem to get along easily with other duck species, though, like other ducks at the wetlands, they keep their distance from silver gulls. Although hardheads are said to seldom come ashore, preferring the safety of broad stretches of deep water, hardheads at the Goulburn Wetlands were often seen in the early mornings among numerous grey teal and black duck, preening themselves on muddy banks of the pond shore or perching on the rocky berms. While the water was broad and deep the hardheads would often be abundant in the Goulburn Wetlands, forming large floating rafts. When disturbed they seemed to prefer to swim behind obstacles to more distant water, rather than flying, which they also readily did if suddenly surprised.

A raft of hardheads with a couple of grey teal in June 2012.

A raft of hardheads with a couple of grey teal in June 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply