In 2009 Bristol added a new species to our waterfowl collection, the Marbled duck Marmaronetta angustirostris. We succeeded in breeding them last year, and a small flock can now be seen in the Camargue exhibit by the zoo entrance.
On view in a couple of Bristol’s aviaries are pairs of one of the rarest ducks in the world, the Endangered Meller’s duck, Anas melleri. Originating from Madagascar, where it lives in wetlands in the east of the country and the central plateau, Meller’s ducks superficially resemble a large female mallard, with both the male and female having almost the same plumage. There are several species of ducks, especially in the tropics, which do not have the widely variant plumages familiar from temperate zone species, and this is reflected in their breeding behaviour.
One of the most beautiful geese in the world is unfortunately also one of the rarest. The Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis is currently estimated to have a population of around 35,000 in the wild; perhaps half what it was only 10 years ago, when it was already the rarest in the genus aside from the far more famous Nene Branta sandvicensis.
Sharing a pool with the African penguins in the Seal and penguin Coast Exhibit are three pairs of Common Eider, Somateria mollissima. Along with the other two Somateria species, S.fischeri (Spectacled Eider) and S.spectabilis (King Eider), plus the slightly more distantly related Steller’s Eider, Polysticta stelleri, they are a readily recognised group of Arctic to temperate zone marine ducks which specialise on shellfish (which are usually swallowed whole), plus some other marine invertebrates. They spend almost their entire lives in salt water, except when storm-driven inland, and are among the heaviest ducks in the world.
Economically, Common Eiders have been important since earliest times, as a food item (they are still heavily hunted, especially in Canada), as a potential pest of oyster and mussel fisheries and farms, but most importantly as the source of eiderdown.