Pink-headed duck and Red-crested pochard: who would win in a fight?

So I recently recycled the Madagascar pochard article from Tet Zoo ver 1, first published in 2006. As you might have realised if you read the 2006 article (and if your memory is exceptionally good), I made one major change for the 2009 re-posting: I chopped out the bit about the Pink-headed duck. Why? Because this species is interesting enough to deserve a bit of attention all its own. Here we go...


Once upon a time the remarkable Pink-headed duck Rhodonessa caryophyllacea* - in my opinion easily one of the weirdest ducks of them all - was abundant throughout the floodplains and swamps of the Lower Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers (it also occurred in Myanmar and occasionally in Nepal). Today, its main claim to fame is that it's extinct: drainage schemes, increasing habitat disturbance and (eventually) hunting and collecting meant that it had declined chronically by the late 1930s, and it was mostly or entirely gone by the 1940s. With classic timing, it was awarded official protection in 1956. While many individuals were kept in captivity (both in India and Britain), it never bred (Kear 2005). We'll look at the Pink-headed duck's extinction - and at rumours of its survival to the present - later on. Right now I'm more interested in something else: while (comparatively speaking) many people are familiar with the Pink-headed duck, little known is that it was a pochard, like the Madagascar pochard we looked at recently, and also like Scaup Aythya marila, Tufted duck A. fuligula and Ring-necked duck A. collaris. These will be familiar birds to you if you're a Northern Hemisphere bird-watcher.


* Rhodonessa is based on Greek rhodon for rose and nessa for duck, while caryophyllacea is a reference to the plant family that includes pinks and carnations (Kear 2005).

Given that the Pink-headed duck is a pochard, it bears discussing where it fits within this duck group. Luckily phylogenetic analyses have been published on this very issue.

Rhodonessa = Netta or Netta = Rhodonessa?

In a phylogenetic analysis of skeletal, integumentary and soft-tissue characters, Livezey (1996) concluded that the members of the pochard clade (Aythyini) fall into four major groups. In branching order these are the stem or narrow-billed pochards (Rhodonesseae), and the redheads, white-eyes, and scaup (all of which form Aythyeae). The Marbled duck Marmaronetta angustirostris was the most basal pochard according to Livezey, and also the smallest (at less than 500 g). Basal pochards are Palaearctic in distribution, and it seems that a number of independent invasions of South America, Africa, Madagascar and Australasia occurred during the group's history.

Livezey found the Pink-headed duck to be part of the narrow-billed pochard clade, and to be the sister-taxon of the Red-crested pochard Netta rufina. This led him to argue that the two should be regarded as congeneric. With Rhodonessa coined by Reichenbach in 1853 and Netta by Kaup in 1859, the former supposedly had priority, so the Red-crested pochard - a familiar species to anyone that knows ducks - became renamed Rhodonessa rufina (Livezey 1996) [image below shows male Red-crested pochard, from wikipedia].


However, Livezey had made a mistake, as Kaup named Netta in 1829, not 1859, so in later publications he switched things round, now sinking the Pink-headed duck into Netta, and hence renaming it Netta caryophyllacea (Livezey 1997). This hasn't been widely accepted however. The Pink-headed duck and Red-crested pochard are hypothesised to be sister-taxa, and hence any decision about their generic status is down to opinion about how different, or similar, they are. Are they really similar enough to be lumped together in the same genus? No: they look markedly different, and hence most ornithologists have argued that there's nothing wrong with retaining separate generic status for both of them.

Incidentally, if you're wondering about the other members of Livezey's Rhodonesseae, they're the Rosybill N. peposaca and Southern pochard N. erythrophthalma. Livezey found these two to form a clade that was the sister-group to the Pink-headed duck + Red-crested pochard clade, and he resurrected the name Metopiana Bonaparte, 1856 for these taxa. While this is the only correct course of action if (1) the Rosybill and Southern pochard really are separate from a Pink-headed duck + Red-crested pochard clade and (2) we choose to retain Rhodonessa, this hasn't really caught on [Livezey's pochard phylogeny shown below; from Livezey (1996)].


Having said matter-of-factly that the Pink-headed duck is a pochard, I should note that there's still a bit of doubt about this. Because the Pink-headed duck is rather like a dabbling duck (viz, a member of the clade that includes Anas and its close relatives) in some of it features (read on), it's also been regarded as a member of this group on occasion, and it's also been considered by some to be a sort of prototype located somewhere round about the pochard-dabbling duck divergence. It's also only right at this stage to note that Livezey's phylogenies are rather controversial within waterfowl studies. Worthy & Lee (2008) recently stated:-

Livezey's phylogenetic conclusions, based on analyses of both skeletal and integumentary characters for modern anatids, differ in many ways from traditional views and are also at odds with phylogenies based on feather protein evidence, behaviour, and genetic data (pp. 677-678; citations removed).

However, tracheal morphology (Johnsgard 1961), osteology (Woolfenden 1961) and feather protein evidence (Brush 1976) does appear to support the classification of the Pink-headed duck among the pochards. Humphrey & Ripley (1962) reviewed all aspects of Pink-headed duck anatomy and concluded that the evidence 'leave[s] no doubt about the aythyine relationships of Rhodonessa' (p. 20).


It's fairly well known that the Pink-headed duck was really strange. Really, really strange. Chocolate brown except for a pink speculum, head and neck, it sported a remarkably strange and unique, long-necked, stiff-necked posture. A short, rounded occipital crest sat at the back of the head; its syringeal bulla was flattened, rather than rounded as in other pochards. Its white, spherical eggs lacked the 'soapy' texture characteristic of duck eggs, and its feet resembled those of dabbling ducks more than those of other pochards. Far less appreciated, however, is that the Red-crested pochard is also odd, and with more recognised autapomorphies than the Pink-headed duck. Features of its syringeal bulla are unique, it has that rounded, bushy head crest, and various details of the plumage on its flanks, wings and neck are unique. In view of all these profound differences it seems most appropriate to keep Rhodonessa and Netta as separate, even if they are more closely related to each other than to other pochards [adjacent image from Animal Information].

Rhodonessa: are you extinct or not?

Like so many 'classic' extinct birds, the Pink-headed duck has been remarkably lively since its supposed extinction (other examples include Passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet and Huia: all have been 'seen' since their respective extinction dates). Claimed sightings are on record from the late 1940s, 1960 and 1974, and some were made by game wardens and other people who might have known what they were talking about. Laliteshwar Prasad Singh claimed to shoot one in Bihar in 1947 and to have seen a group of five to eight in 1948 or 49 (Shuker 1991). At least some of these accounts are conceivable, but either way we're never going to know in the absence of specimens or photos.

Even in the 21st century, claimed sightings continue, with the most recent being those made by Richard Thorns in Kachin State, north Myanmar, in January and February 2009 (visit his website for more). Thorns took several photographs: he notes that misidentification is a more likely possibility than that he photographed live Pink-headed ducks, and most experts favour the view that these were actually Spot-billed ducks Anas poecilorhyncha (specifically of the subspecies [or distinct species] A. p. zonorhyncha: it can look superficially like a Pink-headed duck from a distance). Red-crested pochards may also have been mistaken for Pink-headed ducks on occasion [1880 painting of Pink-headed duck shown below. Not accurate in terms of proportions and shape!].


So far, searches conducted in Myanmar have failed to find the species: five searches were carried out in Kachin State between April 2003 and December 2006, and another in 2008. They did result in the collecting of additional reports from local people, and in another possible sighting, but nothing definitive has yet been discovered. Is it futile to continuing to search for the species, or does hope remain give that there are some large, poorly explored wetland regions in Myanmar and elsewhere?

If you read all this because you wanted to know who would fin in a fight between a Pink-headed duck and a Red-crested pochard, the answer is.... I have no idea. Feel free to discuss it among yourselves.

For other Tet Zoo articles on ducks and other anseriforms see...

Refs - -

Brush, A. H. 1976. Waterfowl feather proteins: analysis of use in taxonomic studies. Journal of Zoology 179, 467-498.

Humphrey, P. S. & Ripley, S. D. 1962. The affinities of the Pink-headed duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea). Postilla 61, 1-21.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1961. Tracheal anatomy of the Anatidae and its taxonomic significance. Wildfowl 13, 130-148.

Kear, J. 2005. Pink-headed duck Rhodonessa caryophyllacea. In Kear, J. & Hulme, M. (eds) Bird Families of the World: Ducks, Geese and Swans. Vol. II. Oxford University Press, pp. 629-630.

Livezey, B. C. 1996. A phylogenetic analysis of modern pochards (Anatidae: Aythyini). The Auk 113, 74-93.

- . 1997. A phylogenetic classification of waterfowl (Aves: Anseriformes), including selected fossil species. Annals of Carnegie Museum 66, 457-496.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1991. Extraordinary Animals Worldwide. Robert Hale, London.

Woolfenden, G. E. 1961. Postcranial osteology of the waterfowl. Florida State Museum Bulletin (Biological Sciences) 6, 1-129.

Worthy, T. H. & Lee, M. S. Y. 2008. Affinities of Miocene waterfowl (Anatidae: Manuherikia, Dunstanetta and Miotadorna) from the St Bathans Fauna, New Zealand. Palaeontology 51, 677-708.

More like this

The recent article about Meller's duck Anas melleri inspired me to recycle my ver 1 article about another of Madagascar's endemic ducks, the Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata [male shown below]. Meller's duck is endangered, with a global population of between 3000 and 5000, but the Madagascar…
More waterfowl weirdness... Most waterfowl can walk fine on land, and the majority of species are pretty agile in terms of their terrestrial abilities. But some species are so specialised for life on water, and have their legs placed so far back on their bodies, that any terrestrial abilities are…
If you said that the mystery duck from yesterday was a mallard, a weird mallard hybrid, a shoveler of some sort, or blah blah blah, then shame shame shame on you: you are a loser. If, however, you said it was a Meller's duck Anas melleri, then well done, you are some kind of freakin' duck genius,…
I've just heard the tragic and saddening news that ornithologist Bradley Livezey died yesterday morning (Tuesday 8th February, 2011) following a car crash. It seems that his car lost traction due to snow and ice on the road surface and then collided with another vehicle. Brad was 56. I never met…

I suspect the red-crested pochard would win, because it's hard to lose against an opponent that's already dead...

If the criterion for who would win the fight was the crazy mohawk, red-crested pochard definitely wins. But I don't think it would have a chance against the hooded merganser.

Thanks for the post on Rhodonessa, very interesting :)

Are they really similar enough to be lumped together in the same genus? No

Hang on a second. This simply isn't a question that can be answered with "yes" or "no". It comes down to personal preference. Livezey prefers it one way, you prefer it another way; that's it, the party's over, and the fat lady sings.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

David: true, true - the 'No' reflects my opinion more than anything else. But note that there was some qualifying text after the bit you quoted: 'No: they look markedly different, and hence most ornithologists have argued that there's nothing wrong with retaining separate generic status for both of them.' Given that generic limits are frequently subjective, the majority rules.

I wasn't aware of the Richard Thorns photo. That duck looks very interesting, indeed. Thanks for the link.

Who'd win?
Well, if it was two drakes there'd be a lot of huffin' and puffin' and eventually they would end up at the bar having a few beers and becoming best friends.
Females? No idea.

If it went extinct when you suggest, then it was not seen in Myanmar, but rather in Burma.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink


[the red-crested pochard] has that rounded, bushy head crest, and various details of the plumage on its flanks, wings and neck are unique

OTOH, the female red-crested pochard, as so often is the case with ducks, is not particularly colourful.

More generally: when looking for phylogenetic clues in the plumage patterns of polygynous ducks, isn't it usually more informative to compare the females and the juveniles, rather than the males, of different species?

... isn't it usually more informative to compare the females and the juveniles, rather than the males, of different species?

Yup, this is done too. The Livezey papers I cited include data from females and juveniles (in fact, there is a long and noble history of using duckling coloration and patterning to elucidate phylogeny and affinities).

The head/bill of the Pink-headed duck (which will always be my favorite pochard) always looked strangely to me like the Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) - although in the phylogeny above it makes a clade with the Redhead, with which, besides coloration, it seems to share little. But then again, I didn't carry out the analysis!

And another thing, you mention this 'Scaup' in the article like you would perhaps mention 'Wren', when there are several species of Scaup, two I have had the pleasure of seeing in the wild (A. marila and A. affinis) and one I have not (A. novaeseelandae).

By Kryptos18 (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

Yeah, sorry, I'm European and we generally use 'Scaup' to mean 'Greater scaup' (Lesser scaup being a rare trans-Atlantic vagrant). But I used the binomial, so you knew which one I was referring to.

Strangest is why its completely extinct.

Terai belt was not very damaged in the 1950's. It still supports indian rhinos and most of the world's tigers.

My private theory links it with the near-extinction of Pygmy Hog and Hispid Hare. It is believed that annual burning of terai grasslands almost wiped them out. (This burning, ironically, continues in national park to create supposedly better grazing for wild ungulates).

Maybe pink-headed duck was also dependent on grasslands for part of its life-cycle? Maybe it moulted and became flightless and hid in grass-covered swamps, and was burned alive?

BTW - there is still some hope in India's remote Arunuchal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. These areas still yield new discoveries like new monal, species like munzala macaque and bugun liocichla - so maybe?

Pochards include more weird species than is generally considered. According to molecular data, at least, these are all pochards: Hartlaub's duck _Pteronetta hartlaubi_, blue-winged goose Cyanochen cyanopterus, and white-winged wood duck Asarcornis (formerly Cairina) scutulatus.

See for example Callaghan, D., and J. Harshman. 2005. Taxonomy and systematics. Pages 14-26 in Ducks, geese and swans (J. Kear, ed.) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

By John Harshman (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

Oh, so you ARE that Harshman. Well, I'm honoured to have you here (stifftail convergence work, TOL contribution, on authorship of Hackett et al.... wow). I'll have to pester you for pdfs :)

Wow, I didn't realize pink-headed ducks were THAT pink.

By Andrew D. Gable (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

As far as I know, there are only two Harshmans in the biology business. And the other one is a drosopholist. (And I'm really glad, by the way, that I got the Meller's duck right; very embarrassing otherwise.)

By John Harshman (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

Ooh, when i saw the Madagascar Pochard post, i was hoping you would do Pink-headed Duck next...

I can't remember where i saw this (maybe Cryptomundo?), but apparently there is a theory that the PHD is/was an introgressive hybrid between Netta rufina and an Anas species (presumably, from your post here, A. poecilorhyncha. This would explain some of its odd combination of pochard and dabbling duck features and also possibly explain why it didn't breed in captivity (reduced fertility rates?) and why it was only found in one area where those species overlap.

While i'm not sure about that theory (I've seen a RCP x mallard hybrid, and it didn't look much like the PHD... although, i guess it does prove Anas x Netta hybrids are *possible*), it could also explain the more recent sightings of birds that look *like* the PHD, but still not "definitely PHD" enough to be positive identifications, as (as i understand it) F1 hybrids tend to be quite varied, whereas introgressive hybrid populations tend to develop a consistent "look", so the "possibly but not definitely PHD" birds could be naturally occurring RCP x Anas hybrids... thoughts?

(Also, hybridogenesis really screws up cladograms...)

I used to have muscovies - big, aggressive critters with claws. They could probably beat up any other random duck.

By Omphaloskepsis (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink


I've seen a RCP x mallard hybrid, and it didn't look much like the PHD... although, i guess it does prove Anas x Netta hybrids are *possible*

This page has several pictures of 'mallard x something else' hybrids, including at least two different Anas platyrhynchos x Netta rufina hybrids. Those two (males) certainly don't particularly look like the pink-headed duck (although they do have kind of pinkish heads).

My hybrid anatid sightings (wild birds only):
-mallard x Eurasian wigeon Anas penelope;
-mallard x American wigeon Anas americana;
-Canada goose Branta canadensis x greylag goose Anser anser;
-Canada goose x (probably) barnacle goose Branta leucopsis.

When you say that most Duck Eggs are "soapy in texture", do you mean the eggshell, or the contents of the egg?

By Tim Morris (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

Ducks are famous for hybridization between distantly related species, even between subfamilies. The classic reference is Johnsgard (1960), and there's a somewhat more recent update by Scherer & Hilsberg (1982). The latter is unfortunately (well, for me at least) in German. But what's most interesting about it is that it's a paper in a real scientific journal written by a couple of creationists. While the information itself is fine, they have a cryptically expressed agenda of showing that ducks and geese all belong to the same "created kind", and what we think of as separate species are all a sorting out of variation present in the original ur-anatid. That viewpoint is more clearly and elaborately expressed in a later publication (Scherer & Sontag 1986). Anyway, lots of extracurricular mating in the Anatidae.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1960. Hybridization in the Anatidae and its taxonomic implications. Condor 62:25-33.

Scherer, S., and T. Hilsberg. 1982. Hybridisierung und Verwandtschaftsgrade innerhalb der Anatidae â eine systematische und evolutionstheoretische Betrachtung. Journal für Ornithologie 123:357-380.

Scherer, S., and C. Sontag. 1986. Zur molekularen Taxonomie und Evolution der Anatidae. Zeitschrift für zoologische Systematik und Evolutionsforschung 24:1-19.

By John Harshman (not verified) on 03 Sep 2009 #permalink

Given that generic limits are frequently subjective, the majority rules.

No, not even the majority rules in taxonomy that uses rank-based nomenclature. Nobody rules. Nobody whatsoever.

That's what they call "taxonomic freedom".

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 03 Sep 2009 #permalink

Scherer is actually one of the authors of the German creationist "textbook" "Evolution, ein kritisches Lehrbuch". In this book they express the idea that everything that hybridises belongs to one "created kind". Of course they don't say why it would be impossible for a species to lose the ability to hybridise with others. Anatids are of course mentioned as an example, but they don't mention that Mandarin Duck hybrids are very rare if they exist at all. I don't know if this is mentioned in the papers.

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 03 Sep 2009 #permalink

David (comment 22) says...

No, not even the majority rules in taxonomy that uses rank-based nomenclature. Nobody rules. Nobody whatsoever.

That's what they call "taxonomic freedom".

I understand the point you're making, but most taxonomic opinions still reflect a sort of consensus.


they have a cryptically expressed agenda

I took a look at the 1982 paper; while the creationism isn't of the most glaring in-your-face kind, it's certainly there. Granted, today biologists are generally a bit more aware about the devious ways of creationists, but the way Scherer & Hilsberg were slyly contrasting 'microevolution' with 'macroevolution' should have rang alarm bells even back then. How/Why did the referees/editors let that pass?


they don't say why it would be impossible for a species to lose the ability to hybridise with others.

Why? For a creationist, there are two reasons why things are the way they are:
1) 'Goddidit'.
2) See 1).

Anatidae is pretty mild as candidate created kinds go - I've seen Dinosauria (presumably excluding birds) and Bacteria suggested. The one constant about created kinds is that Homo and Pan belong to different ones.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 03 Sep 2009 #permalink

Hybrids between Mandarin duck and other genera are rare, but Scherer & Hillsberg record a few. What would they do if there weren't any? Ignore it, I suspect. Creationists aren't big on consistently applied criteria.

If anyone wants a bit of innocent amusement tinged with pity, try delving into the English language "baraminology" literature. Todd Charles Wood is the most interesting practitioner.

By John Harshman (not verified) on 03 Sep 2009 #permalink

[from Darren: delayed by all those links!]

Really OT comment, yet linked via Nepal Terai: Regarding ancient humans, the Terai Nepal malarial lowlands have 2 unusual aboriginal peoples, the Tharus and Kusunda; linguistic studies of Kusunda link it directly to Papuan & Tasmanian languages, genetic studies link the sinitic Tharus to Ethiopia, Japan, Andamans and the Orang Asli aboriginals of Malaya. A serious question: could these ducks have been early domesticates (clipped-wings) brought from Africa to Nepal, Japan, Papua maybe 40,000 years ago? Note that the Kusundas avoid all hoofed animals and their dung as a taboo, they hunt and eat wild fowl and eat forest tubers. Could some of these odd misplaced ducks resulted from deliberate transit in woven baskets or net-bags, long geographic isolation and artificial selection for bright heads for identification by pre-agricultural owners?
Similar words for river-water/wet: (English) water, (Anatolia Hittite) watar, (Russian) woda, (Kusunda) wide, (Old German) woter, (Japanese Ainu) wakka, (India Malayalam) welum, (Eire) uisge "whiskey", (French) eau, (Quechua) yaku, (Amharic) wuha, Papuan: (Baham) weÇ°a, (Iha) wadar, (Puragi) owedo, (Aikwakai) wetai, (Siagha) wedi, (Pisa) wadi, (Aghu) widi, (Kombai) wodei, (South Kati) ok-wiri (ok- âwaterâ), (Awin) waiduo……
If compare sound of water-wet-wota to "boat" perhaps this ancestral migration indicates the use of dugout boats during the Ice Age from 40ka-8ka until advanced sailing and horsemanship sent another wave of expansion in the form of early pastoral agricultural 'city settlers' based on corralled meat-on-the-hoof and mass netted fish. Neat post!


It is very unlikely that pink-headed duck was domesticated or brought from elsewhere. No other population which might be ancestors and not known to be tame or kept.

But tribes in India are incredible. Like evolutionary radiation, with each tribe having different ecology and not inter-marrying - fishermen, hunters, farmers, snake-charmers, herdsmen etc.


could these ducks have been early domesticates (clipped-wings) brought from Africa to Nepal, Japan, Papua maybe 40,000 years ago?

What Jerzy said in #29. Also, Darren wrote in the original post that:

While many individuals were kept in captivity (both in India and Britain), it never bred (Kear 2005).

I don't quite subscribe to Jared Diamond's view that 'all species that can be domesticated, have been domesticated'* but I think there's at least a kernel of truth in it. Any species that is to be a good domesticate must, among other things, reproduce readily under captive conditions. And the pink-headed duck apparently did not do that.

* No, that's not an exact quote but it's effectively the argument he made in Guns, Germs and Steel.

could these ducks have been early domesticates (clipped-wings) brought from Africa to Nepal, Japan, Papua maybe 40,000 years ago?

Highly unlikely. Even dogs aren't anywhere near that old.

Similar words for river-water/wet:

No, no, no, no, no. Phylogenetics is a science, in linguistics just as much as in biology. You cannot point at an isolated feature or two, say "look, how similar", ignore all the rest of the evidence, and believe you've made a defensible argument. That's not how it works.

(English) water, (Anatolia Hittite) watar, (Russian) woda [why do you transcribe that with w?], [â¦] (Old German) woter, [â¦] (Eire) uisge "whiskey"

Yes, all these are indeed the same word, and the languages belong to a clade called Indo-European.

(Japanese Ainu) wakka, (India Malayalam) welum

Indo-European d corresponds regularly to Ainu kk and Dravidian l? That I want to see.

(Note the pathetic attempt at British understatement. If you can show convincingly enough that anything corresponds regularly between Indo-European and Dravidian, your career is made, and if you can show convincingly enough that anything corresponds regularly between either of those and Ainu, consider yourself world-famous. Historical linguistics -- as linguistic phylogenetics is called -- hasn't progressed very far.)

(French) eau

No -- it's straight from Latin aqua, which is a descendant of the other Proto-Indo-European word for "water". Yes, there were two of them. (There were also two for "fire".)

(Quechua) yaku

Well⦠weirder things have happened (see just above), but⦠the experts can't even agree on whether Quechua is at all related to the neighboring Aymara⦠if you want to defend that argument, you have a PhD thesis or three in front of you.

(Amharic) wuha

Indo-European d and Semitic h? No. Just⦠no.

(Kusunda) wide, [â¦] Papuan: (Baham) weÇ°a, (Iha) wadar, (Puragi) owedo, (Aikwakai) wetai, (Siagha) wedi, (Pisa) wadi, (Aghu) widi, (Kombai) wodei, [â¦] (Awin) waiduo

Now it gets interesting! But still, this is phylogenetics with a single character. Come back with more data, or it didn't happen.

Besides, while it doesn't happen often, words for "water" can be borrowed; look here and here for example.

If compare sound of water-wet-wota to "boat"

But we can't.

"Boat" doesn't even go back to Proto-Indo-European. It only occurs in Germanic languages and in French (bateau), which must have borrowed it because the consonants are the same. Indeed, that the t is the same in English and German shows it's a North Sea word that was borrowed into southern German within the last 1500 years. Forget about it.

until advanced sailing and horsemanship sent another wave of expansion in the form of early pastoral agricultural 'city settlers' based on corralled meat-on-the-hoof and mass netted fish.


Horses were only domesticated about 6000 years ago, long after the origin of agriculture. And if you don't explain "advanced sailing"â¦

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 04 Sep 2009 #permalink

that was borrowed into southern German

And, of course, into French (or some ancestor thereof later than Classical Latin), though that could have happened a few hundred years earlier.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 04 Sep 2009 #permalink

In addition to all their other amazing qualities, ducks are really convenient for weighing witches.

By Stevo Darkly (not verified) on 04 Sep 2009 #permalink


Note, that ducks are one of examples against Diamond theory. Ducks and geese occur worldwide, but were domesticated only in Europe, China, Egypt and C America.

Hawaiians didn't domesticate Hawaiian Duck, although it is very close to Mallard, and they had scarcity of domestic animals.

[from Darren: sorry, delayed by spam filter]

Thanks for that "hybrid mallards" link; i'd already seen the "Manky Mallards" (wild x domestic mallards) page on that site. The Mallard x RCP photos there look like the one i saw, and are beautiful birds (as is the Mallard x Pintail), but yes, not much like the PHD.

However, after looking at a few pictures of A. poeciloryncha (incidentally, why poeciloryncha yet platyrhynchos?) - especially this one and this one on Wikipedia - i note that the Spotbill seems to have a much longer and slimmer neck than the Mallard, in fact near-comparable to that of the PHD. (Those pictures have also convinced me that Richard Thorns's photo is of a Spotbill, alas.) Give the second RHP x Mallard hybrid on the 10,000 Birds page the head/neck proportions of a Spotbill, and lighten its head colour comparably to the difference between male Spotbill and male Mallard head colour, and you might well have something a lot like a PHD.

(I tried searching Cryptomundo for the post i thought i'd seen the hybrid theory posted as a comment to, but though i did find a post about the PHD, that comment seems to have disappeared, if it was originally on that post...)

(Thanks Darren, sorry for so many links, seemed interesting.)
Jerzy: I meant semi-domestic, partly clip wings of ducks so only fly nearby, let free in ponds, collect eggs. Kusunda language was considered a total isolate, like the ducks, until recently. I thought Hawaiians had chickens and pigs.

DM: I don't want to get into linguistics on a duck thread, so just this will have to do: Akwa = Khoe-San people of Okavango, Khoe-Sandawe->KuSunda->Sunda/Andaman?
(Malay) Kuala = river fork
'advanced' sailing = woven papyrus/pandanus sails & paddles
bow->bowed->boat, flow->flowed->float, blow->blowed->bloat

Jerzy, 'Europe, China, Egypt and C America' is worldwide. What can be domesticated depends in part on culture and technology. Outside those areas, was their toolkit sufficient to domesticate ducks? Diamond argues indirectly that it wasn't - that each culture domesticated all the animals it could.

I don't want to get into linguistics on a duck thread

You already did.

And you're still stuck in it. Here's you trying to continue doing linguistics:

Akwa = Khoe-San people of Okavango

I'd bet real money that this is just a random coincidence.


This is even worse than "Peter Mihalda"'s speculations on archosaur phylogeny.

(Malay) Kuala = river fork

I'd bet real money that this, too, is just a random coincidence.

'advanced' sailing = woven papyrus/pandanus sails & paddles


bow->bowed->boat, flow->flowed->float, blow->blowed->bloat

Nope. While this looks suggestive, it's just a coincidence of the English language. Compare German:

Bug-bog-gebogen-Boot*; flieÃen-floss-geflossen-[FloÃ**]; blasen-blies-geblasen-blähen***.

The second does consist of related words, the third might, but the first is a random lookalike in English and only English, a language where /b/ and /g/ turned to /w/ in some cases (another is yellow, German gelb).

* Must be imported, as I explained yesterday.
** A noun that means "raft".
*** Verb.
Also, because bowed/flowed/blowed can be past tense or perfect participle, I gave both in all cases.
Wait a second. "Blowed"? What happened to blew and blown, irregular in the same way as in German?

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 05 Sep 2009 #permalink

I just wanted to note (although this thread seems to have diverted considerably from ducks now!) that i'm not pushing the hybrid theory; i just find it interesting and possibly worth investigating.

Also, it's easily testable - there must be plenty of wildfowl collections containing both Spotbill and Red-crested Pochard. All you need is a male and female of each species and the equipment for artificial insemination (which i'm sure commercial breeders of domestic ducks must have), to see if what you produce resembles a PHD...

OK DM, brief: not coinc./incomparable/Kuala Walu is the aboriginal name for Humboldt Bay at Eureka Calif. (my locale) derived from Akwa/khoesandawe->kusunda/unda/indus/sind/arsin/aryan OR farsi-n Indo-European<->Indo-Pacific/know->knowed->note (same pattern)

No, DDeden. No. You can't just make assertions, repeat them, and then run away instead of testing them. That's not how science works.

And don't claim you didn't want to do science anyway. You made testable claims; all testable claims are by definition in the purview of science.


Embarrassing. Note isn't even of English origin, it comes from Latin.

And did you really think the k in know is there just for shits and giggles? No, till a few hundred years ago it was pronounced. As it still is in German in those kn- words that German and English share, like Knie "knee", Knecht (means "farmhand", but is the same word as knight; a knight is, by etymology, the humble servant of an even higher nobleman), Knolle ("tuber", but obviously related to "knoll"), Knopf "knob", Knöchel "knuckle", Knoten "knot", Knabe (literary word for "boy", but obviously related to "knave"), kneten "knead". (And I wonder if Knochen "bone" is related to knock, which doesn't exist in German.)

It's great that you're trying to find regularities in language change, though. That's the first step in the right direction. I'm not being sarcastic here.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 06 Sep 2009 #permalink

(I forgot to write this disclaimer: I might be wrong.)

We know already that you could be wrong. That doesn't change anything.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 06 Sep 2009 #permalink

(i/)gno->kno(wed)->no(te) .is. the same pattern
flow/flowed/float/flood/flue/flewed/fluid/flight/fly many
(moving without legs) bow-blow (branches curved by wind)
honey: (Skt) maedhu->(OE) mead|hunig, (Gk/LL/PIE) mel/i/th
water: (Skt) udnah/"wettenah" (Mlym) vellum/"welum" well

No, Latin (cog)noscere and notare are not related the way you suggest; the latter is probably the frequentative of the former (compare canere = to sing about something, cantare = to sing).

honey: (Skt) maedhu->(OE) mead|hunig, (Gk/LL/PIE) mel/i/th

Oh please. The Sanskrit "dh" is not a sequence of d followed by h, it's a single sound, a sort of d with voiced aspiration.

And where would the "nig" part come from? Out of thin air? No, "honey" and "mead" are obviously unrelated words.

BTW, it's just madhu in Sanskrit. No e inside.

Changes from d to l are normal in Latin and Greek under some conditions, but not elsewhere.

water: (Skt) udnah

Yes, this is the same: PIE wed- with a suffix that was n or r in different conditions, followed by a filler vowel and then the nominative ending -h (from -s).

Hittite: "water" wÄdar, "water's" wedenas -- wÅd- + -r vs wed- + -n- + -os.


What's that?


Looks unlikely to me; I don't know of any d-l shifts in Germanic.


OK, except for "fluid". Latin f comes from PIE bh or dh (voiced aspirated); Germanic f comes from PIE p. So, flow can only be related to Latin pluvium "rain" (Latin p comes straight from PIE p).

False friends like this are not uncommon. Another is "have", German haben, which means the same as Latin habere but isn't the same: Latin h comes from PIE gh, while Germanic h comes from PIE k -- so have/haben is related to Latin capere "grasp, catch...", while habere is related to... wait for it... give, German geben. (Germanic g comes from PIE gh; Germanic b comes from bh, and so does Latin b between vowels. PIE doesn't seem to have distinguished "give" and "take", just how it didn't distinguish "guest" and "host". BTW, guest and host are the same word, once Germanic, once Latin.)

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 08 Sep 2009 #permalink

This is the last comment in this thread. DDeden: sorry, David has well and truly made his point.

The Latin fl- words are related to English blow.

By David MarjanoviÄ, OM (not verified) on 08 Sep 2009 #permalink