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Birdwatch: pochards are one of Britain’s rarest breeders
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Birdwatch: pochards are one of Britain’s rarest breeders

Among the egrets, bitterns and cranes on Somerset’s Avalon Marshes, it would be easy to ignore a rather stocky diving duck, with a pale grey body, black breast and tail, and rich chestnut head. As I scan the reedbeds, I often see pochards flying fast and low, before vanishing into thick vegetation below.

Yet from a British point of view, of all the birds breeding here, the pochard is one of the rarest. Just 700 pairs nest annually in the UK, and the flagship RSPB reserve at Ham Wall is one of their main strongholds.

The reason we ignore pochards is that, along with other ducks, such as wigeon, shoveler and pintail, they are far more common in winter than during the nesting season. So we dismiss them as commonplace, even though there are far fewer breeding pochards than little egrets, Dartford warblers or firecrests.

The name is an oddity: it derives from “poach” or “poke”, and refers to the bird’s feeding habits – although I’m not convinced they feed any differently from other diving ducks.

The suffix “-ard” – along with “mallard” and “buzzard” – reminds me that ducks, gamebirds and birds of prey often have Old French names. That’s because they were the groups of birds either hunted for food, or used for hunting, by the aristocratic Norman invaders. The names they gave these species live on, almost a millennium after 1066.

Source: theguardian.com