Australian Bush Birds
Hardhead or White-eyed Duck  -  Aythya australis
Female Hardhead
Female Hardhead on Noccundra Waterhole in Southwest Queensland; distinguished from the male by brown eyes (the male has prominent white eyes).
Male Hardhead
Male Hardhead has distinctive white eye with a white tip to the bill.
map map The Hardhead or White Eyed Duck - Aythya australis - has a large, dark brown head; body is richly mottled brown; rufous-brown breast and flanks. Bill black with pale blue bar at tip (less obvious in females). Upper wing brown with broad white bar across flight feathers. Underwing white with brown forward and trailing edges. Under tail white. Feet grey with slate grey webs. Males have a prominent white eye, females have a brown eye and pale coloured body. Size 45 to 55 centimetres. Juveniles have dark iris, uniform yellow-brown plumage.

Prefers large, deep lakes and swamps with abundant aquatic vegetation. Rarely comes onto land and never perches in trees. Also lives on smaller creeks, flooded crops and shallow floodplain pools; rarely on coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps or salt lakes.

Hardhead - page 2
Flies quickly with fast-beating wings and an audible whirr.

Swims quickly and low in the water, diving frequently with smooth action. May travel for 30-40 metres before surfacing, staying submerged for up to a minute. When disturbed it flies up quickly, gaining height rapidly. Hardheads feed only in water, and are able to dive to deep food sources unavailable to other ducks. They can eat at the surface, taking seeds from surface aquatic plants but also submerge to reach insects, molluscs, shrimps, yabbies and small fish as well as sedges, grasses and submerged plants.

Common in south east and south west Australia. Nomadic in normal seasons, following the rains. Gathers into rafts of arriving and departing birds numbering in the thousands floating in open water. During drought they wander more widely throughout Australia, inland and in the north, and reach Indonesia, New Guinea and New Zealand.

Breeding in the spring depends on rainfall and takes place in October and November in the south-west and September to December in inland New South Wales but can breed later if flooding is extensive. Nest is a cup of neatly woven reeds and sticks built in dense reeds or other vegetation in water about 1 metre deep. Usually 9 to 12 eggs, glossy cream, oval 57mm by 41mm. The female incubates the eggs for about 25 days.

Hardheads have declined in numbers on the east coast but are still common inland.

Hardhead pair
Pair of Hardheads on Coopers Creek near Windorah; the male is closer to the camera.