Australian Bush Birds
Pink-eared Duck  -  Malacorhynchus membranaceus
pink-eared duck
Pink-eared Duck showing the striped side and small pink patch giving it the name pink ear. (Cobar, NSW.)
pink-eared duck
Pink-eared Duck with striped side and angular flaps on the bill used for scooping up water containing food particles. (Atherton, Queensland.)
map map The Pink-eared Duck - Malacorhynchus membranaceus - (36 to 45 centimetres) has brown back and wings; sides and underparts are light coloured with dark brown vertical irregular stripes, giving rise to one common name of zebra bird. Rump is white and tail dusky. Top of head is grey, neck is brown, side of head white with fine, light brown bars. Dark brown patch around the eye which is brown, sometimes with a narrow white ring. Brown patch extends along the back of the head. Behind the eye, on the edge of the dark patch, there is a small pink circular or triangular patch leading to the common name of Pink-eared Duck. Legs and feet are grey. Front of neck and underside are white with dusky, or grey, barring. The bill is long, leaden-grey and squared with thin leathery, flaps on the edges near the tips used when feeding.

Male and female similar in appearance, there is no change in appearance at breeding time. Immature birds resemble adults but are generally duller coloured with a smaller and less distinct pink patch.

Pink-eared Duck - page 2
pink-eared duck
Group of Pink-eared Ducks on the edge of reservoir. The dark eye patches, striped body and unusual beak shape are identification characteristics. A Grey Teal is resting behind the duck preening on the left. (Cobar, NSW.)
Lives in small parties to large flocks; keeps to water, sometimes on logs in the water or along the edges, but rarely on land. Roosts along the edge of water.

The flaps of skin along the bill form a broad scoop which the bird uses to scoop up food. They cruise the water with the bill immersed, sometimes up to the eyes; water is drawn in through the slightly opened tip of the bill, then pumped out the sides through fine lamellae or plates which filter the water and catch food particles.

Pink-eared Ducks often feed in arrowhead formation or several birds rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise; this is thought to be to stir up the bottom mud. They also trawl along the bottom. They eat insects, water fleas, freshwater algae and floating seeds.

This specialised feeding technique works best in plankton-rich, shallow, stagnant, fresh water so big flocks of Pink-eared Ducks congregate on floodsheets and claypans for the best feeding conditions.

Of necessity these birds are nomadic, always on the move looking for suitable bodies of water which are often temporary. Core breeding area is the Murray-Darling system

They rarely gather on deep lagoons and swamps where the feeding is not as good, except during drought when they resort to lakes and swamps when their preferred habitats have dried up. The Atherton photograph above was taken on a lake at Hasties Swamp near Atherton in Queensland in mid-2013 after a poor Wet Season when inland Queensland was entering a drought.

Breeding takes place at any time of the year when floodwaters are high enough. The nest is a rounded mound of sticky grey down 25 centimetres across and 15 centimetres high placed on a log, a limb or in bushes a few centimetres to 10 metres above the water; often old nests of other water birds are used. Five to eight eggs, usually six or seven, are laid; smooth, white or cream; oval, pointed at the smaller end, about 49 by 36 millimetres. The female incubates the eggs for about 28 days; the male remains throughout the incubation period defending the nest, then helps to raise the young. New pairs form at each breeding.