Shelduck – the mystery duck

An early morning wander up to the south plateau yesterday brought me face to face with a pair of the most brightly coloured birds of the island and one that most visitors miss – the shelduck. On a bird island full of amazing birds the shelduck is one of the strangest and most mysterious. It is a big and strikingly beautiful bird with a vivd red bill, forest green head and a pure white body with a harlequin pattern of green, brown, and orange. Surely you can’t miss them. But each year we have quite a debate as to just how many we have and how many have successfully bred. This is becuase they acutally nest deep in enlarged rabbit holes and are incredibly secretive during the breeding season. The pair i saw was a male escorting the female on her daily, early morning feeding and watering trip. When the eggs hatch the parents immediately lead them out of the hole and off to the sea which on this island usually means through the middle of a gull colony. Unfortunately this usually means not many survive. The Isle of May is not really an ideal place for shelducks, their favoured habitat is muddy estuaries but despite the chick eating gulls and lack of good feeding they keep coming back each year, but are there 2 pairs?, or 3 ? or maybe 4 ?, we just don’t know.

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