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SCAVENGING TUSSOCK DUCKS habits are peculiar. So far as I could determine, these Bird Island ducks feed extensively on animal remains, and this could be an important adaptation, considering the extensive winter snow cover. During winter the nonmigratory ducks are thought to forage along the edge of Bird Island's open sea which rarely freezes over. Although sometimes referred to as teal, these strange ducks are best called pintails, the currently accepted name being yellow-billed pintail (Anas georgica). The race or subspecies endemic to South Georgia and Bird Island is the South Georgia pintail (A. georgica georgica), a close relative of the somewhat larger and paler brown pintail (A. georgica spinicauda ] of South America and the Falkland Islands. Except for the yellowish bill, bright in breeding males and a good field characteristic for separating the sexes, the birds have a rather somber body plumage. The speculum, though not really eye-catching in males, hardly exists in females. The neck of both sexes is long and sleek and thus is similar to that of other pintails. Hardly a flashy duck, the South Georgia pintail certainly does not lack character. Two to five of these pintails can be found most any time just outside Lonnberg House whenever the hut is occupied. They favor the area where an open-ended drain leading from the kitchen spills dishwater over the ground. Every time water is discharged down the drain the pintails gather to sift the fine food scraps. Soapy water does not deter them in the least, and one concludes that few items, however small or soapy, escape them. Extremely quick and agile afoot, they run circles around the skuas that also occupy the area, though the latter quickly monopolize any large food items.When the skuas abandon a scrap of food, such as a bone too large to swallow, the pintails are standing by to pick the leavings. 69 that looks like a duck but does not behave much like one. Its feeding mong the many unusual Bird Island species is a small teal-sized duck a SCAVENGING TUSSOCK DUCKS A windfall in food occurs whenever a seal dies, which happens often during the breeding season around Lonnberg House. The first birds at a seal carcass are the northern giant petrels. With their powerful bills, they quickly pluck out the eyes; then they go after the entrails. A greedy flock of a half dozen giant petrels can strip a seal carcass to its hide and bones in a few days. But before that happens, other species claim their share of the carcass. The tough skuas, though considerably smaller than the giant petrels, wade in among the latter and take what they want. Not all feedings are gruesome affairs. They can be comical. Once, our Lonnberg House skuas struggled with a long section of seal intestine that was still attached by one of its ends to the carcass. When George flew off with the loose end of the gut, he was abruptly jerked backwards, head over tail. For the much smaller sheathbills, approaching the carcass is not so simple. They stealthily dash in and tear at a fleshy hole previously opened by the skuas or giant petrels. Sheathbills are shifty birds and forever flitting about near their food, as though the feeding had to be consummated in bits and dabs with split-second timing. This behavior enables them to dart in and snip flesh from the open wound of a living fur seal that has been bitten by another in the battle for mates. The sheathbills often enlarge the wound until healing seems improbable. One might surmise that the delicate little pintails wait their turn to pick at the bones and small scraps left by the larger predators. Wrong assumption! As soon as there is a small opening in the seal carcass the ducks dive headlong into the hole, which conceals from view their bills and at times even their heads. The head is methodically withdrawn time and again for surveillance, but it is not unusual to see both giant petrels and pintails simultaneously picking at the same carcass. The ducks are so clever in maneuvering that not many are caught unaware. Unlike the giant petrels that acquire grisly scarlet heads while gorging on the bloody flesh, the fastidious pintails remain remarkably clean by dipping frequently into streams or pools of water. Many times I watched the Lonnberg House pintails screen the waters of several streams that flowed near the hut. Occasionally I...


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