SHELDRAKE, or Burrow Duck (Anas tudorna). The bill of the sheldrake is of a bright red, and at the base swells into a knob, which is most conspicuous in the spring; the head and upper part of the neck of a fine blackish green; the lower part of the neck white; a broad band of bright orange environs the breast and upper part of scapulars black; the greater quill feathers black; the exterior webs of the next, green; and of the last, orange; the coverts of the tail and the tail itself white, with the exception of two feathers tipped with black; the belly white, divided longitudinally by a black line; the legs of a pale flesh colour. In winter they congregate in vast numbers. The flesh is very rank and bad.
The female makes her nest, and rears her young, under ground, in the rabbit-holes which are made in the sand-hills near the seashore: it is chiefly formed of the fine down, plucked from her own breast: she lays from twelve to sixteen roundish white eggs, and the incubation lasts about thirty days. During this time the male, who is very attentive to his charge, keeps watch in the day time on some adjoining hillock, where he can see all around him, and which he quits only when impelled by hunger, to procure subsistence. The female also leaves the nest, for the same purpose, in the mornings and evenings, at which times the male takes his turn and supplies her place. As soon as the young are hatched, or are able to waddle along, they are conducted, and sometimes carried in the bill, by the parents, to the full tide, upon which they launch without fear, and are not seen afterwards out of tidemark until they are well able to fly. Lulled by the roarings of the flood, they find themselves at home amidst an ample store of their natural food, which consists of sand-hoppers, seaworms, &c. or small shell-fish, and the innumerable shoals of the little fry, which have not yet ventured out into the great deep, but are left on the beach, or tossed to the surface of the water by the restless surge.
If this family, in their progress from the nest to the sea, happen to be interrupted by any person, the young ones, it is said, seek the first shelter, and squat close down, and the parent birds fly off. Then commences that truly curious scene, dictated by an instinct analogous to reason: the tender mother drops, at no great distance from her helpless brood, trails herself along the ground, flaps it with her wings, and appears to struggle as if she were wounded, in order to attract attention, and tempt a pursuit after her. Should these wily schemes, in which she is also aided by her mate, succeed, they both return, when the danger is over, to their terrified, motionless, little offspring, to renew the tender offices of cherishing and protecting them.
Harewood, Harry. A Dictionary of Sports. London: T. Tegg and son, 1835.
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