Visual fields in Blue Ducks Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos and Pink-eared Ducks Malacorhynchus membranaceus: visual and tactile foraging

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Blue Ducks Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos (Anatidae), an IUCN Red Listed Endangered species, reside in headwaters of New Zealand rivers and feed primarily on aquatic invertebrates. However, whether such food items are detected by tactile or visual cues is unknown. That Blue Ducks may use tactile cues when foraging is suggested by the presence of specialized flaps of thickened, keratinized epidermis containing Herbst's corpuscles along the ventral margins of the upper mandibles near the bill tip. Similar bill flaps are found only in one other duck species, Pink-eared Ducks Malacorhynchus membranaceus, that surface filter-feed on a range of planktonic organisms. Using an ophthalmoscopic reflex technique we determined the visual fields of both species. In Blue Ducks the eyes are frontally placed resulting in a relatively wide binocular field into which the narrow tapering bill intrudes. There is a large blind area to the rear of the head. This visual field topography is similar to that of other visually guided foragers including those that take mobile prey from the water column, e.g. penguins (Spheniscidae). By contrast, Pink-eared Duck visual fields show features found in other tactile feeding ducks: a narrow frontal binocular field with the bill falling at the periphery, and comprehensive visual coverage of the celestial hemisphere. We conclude that although Blue Ducks may take prey from rock surfaces they are primarily visual feeders of the water column and we suggest therefore that their foraging may be significantly disrupted by changes in water clarity. This introduces a previously unconsidered factor into the selection of sites for population enhancement or re-introductions, a current conservation focus.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-120
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007