THIS week at Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low Nature Reserve, we’ve been joined by a brash American.
A ring-necked duck has joined the several hundred native tufted ducks that spend all winter on the two storage reservoirs. The bird, which looks superficially similar has a distinctive white spur on greyer flanks and a more patterned bill, and was likely blown across the north Atlantic on an autumn hurricane and will now likely live out its days on this side of the pond. Whilst it’s alone at Tophill, there have actually been 13 ring necked ducks in the UK this week, so it may yet find some friends. That said it has been trying to impress our local girls – and may yet try and interbreed with them creating hybrids between the near species.
This wouldn’t be uncommon – and often this does not cause much more than an interesting quirk, much like the hybrid gadwall x mallard or tufted duck x scaup we have on the reservoirs at present too - but this can become more sinister in some cases. The ruddy duck is an attractive American duck with a jolly blue bill which was brought across to Slimbridge by renowned conservationist Sir Peter Scott over 50 years ago. The birds rapidly bred and spread across the UK seemingly living benignly in our environment and brightening up a day’s birding. However as the species moved into Europe too it met a distant relative in Spain and Portugal – the rare and endangered white-headed duck. Bold and brash American male ruddy’s started to out-man the native male white headed ducks – and often successfully bred with the female producing fertile hybrids. The trouble is that eventually the characteristics of the white headed duck start to disappear until the species is lost in its entirety. As such a controversial cull was actioned a few years ago which has seen the ruddy duck all but exterminated in the UK – which although brutal is hoped will save the European species.
Tophill Low Nature Reserve is located 4 miles from the A164 at Watton. Admission £2.80 adults and £1.20 concessions. Sorry no dogs. For more details visit www.tophilllow.blogspot.com or follow us on twitter @tophilllow