Falcated Duck
Honey Lake, Lassen County, California
26-27 March 2002
Joseph Morlan

Photos © 21 March 2002 by Bruce Webb
Robbie Fischer and I arrived at Honey Lake about 4pm on our way to look for the Falcated Duck which had been in the area since 19 March 2002 when found by John Sterling. We encountered Vernon and Andrew Howe along Mapes Road south of Fish and Game Road. They were looking for the Harris's Sparrow which had been seen previously in the area. Vernon advised us that the Falcated Duck was still in its usual place and that if we didn't see it within one minute of getting out of the car, we should quit birding.

We arrived by the green and yellow flagging tape along Fish and Game Road 0.6 mi., east of Mapes Road to find many Gadwall, American Wigeons and a few other ducks, but no Falcated Duck. We waited for over 30 minutes before the Falcated Duck appeared in the pond across the levee on the north side of the road. We got excellent views of the duck through our scopes. We also returned the next morning and observed the bird again in better light. The following description is based on notes made while watching the bird:

A medium sized duck, about the size and shape of adjacent Gadwall, but with much iridescent green on the face, a white collar around the neck with a black interior collar mark, and very long falcate shaped tertials hanging over the rear of the bird forming a prominent bustle.

The body was vermiculated with a fine gray herring-bone pattern similar to Gadwall, but the breast was more coarsely marked with black spotting, also similar to Gadwall. The flanks were whitish with a vertical black line dividing the flank patches into two areas. The larger rear area was wedge-shaped and tinted with pale yellow. The smaller front area was pure white. The scapulars were paler gray, speckled with black. The rump was black. The wing coverts on the folded wing were largely concealed by elongated scapulars and tertials, but a patch of black (lesser coverts) peeked through the gray sides. A small dark green patch (speculum)was barely visible just above the whitish flank patch. It was located in the same area where the white patch shows up on the folded wing of a Gadwall.

The tertials were very elongated, falcate in shape. They were held up slightly by the tail and then hung down behind the rump, giving the rear end an odd blunt appearance. These feathers were very narrow, black in color, but edged in white.

The head had a strong green gloss to the face, extending back onto the nape where it formed a hanging pointed crest. The crown and lower face were dark rusty. A narrow white collar with a black mid-line extended around the front of the neck. The eye was dark. A small white headlight spot was just above the middle of the bill on the forehead.

The bill was black and about the size and shape of Gadwall.

The bird spent most of its time dabbling on the surface of the water, but did not dip its head under the water. Its feet and legs were never visible. It associated mostly with Gadwall, and occasionally bobbed its head at nearby female Gadwall in apparent courting attempts. The plumage was very fresh looking, and showed no obvious evidence of wear or captivity


The California Bird Records Committee has reviewed two previous records of Falcated Duck in California, but neither were accepted on the grounds of questionable natural occurrence:

5 Apr-21 May 1953 San Francisco SF 458-1986-14
2 Jan-21 Feb 1969 Upper Newport Bay ORA 128-1986-14

However, the species was added to the Supplemental List based on these records.

Another Falcated Duck was reported by John Trochet at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Management Area in Butte County on 15 February 1998, but was apparently never submitted. This year a "possible" Falcated Duck was reported by Melvin McKinney 28 March 2002 at the Elk River Wildlife Area, Eureka, Humboldt County but was not confirmed.

Elsewhere on the West Coast, another male Falcated Duck has been present at Samish Flats, Skagit Co., Washington since 21 February 2002 (a photo is here), and there are prior records from Vernon, British Columbia (15 April 1932), Tofino, British Columbia (19-22 April 1994, returning late January-23 March 1995, and again 20 February 1996), and Willapa Bay, Washington. This pattern suggests that Falcated Ducks may occasionally reach California naturally.

However, sightings from Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Ontario and Europe suggest that some records may be of escaped captives. It is difficult to assess the status of this species in captivity although Todd (Waterfowl of the World, 1979) states that it is reasonably common and bred in captivity. Searching the web for this species, I found a pair for sale from a breeder in Wisconsin for $125, another pair for $140 from Montana, and a hen for sale from a breeder in Michigan for $40. Also I elicited an opinion from Jeffrey Brown, a breeder in Applegate, Oregon, who stated:

"I doubt highly that any falcated seen in the states are wild. I myself have had a few escapee's over the years. In fact, if you see a red breasted goose flying around the northwest, its probably mine."

We met one of the rangers at the Honey Lake Wildlife Management Area who advised us that 12-15 birders had been to see the bird each day and that some visitors came from as far away as New York.

Videos of this bird by Leslie Lieurance have been posted here and here. To view the videos, you may need to download QuickTime from Adobe here.