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Welcome to Birdata 24 April 2014

Hardhead: What's in a name?

J.N. Davies

The Hardhead is a charming duck, with rich, chocolate-brown plumage and a neat bluish band across its bill. But why is it called a Hardhead?

According to HANZAB, it should be referred to as the 'Australian White-eyed Duck' "because it reveals the allopatrism of this species and ... the European or Ferruginous White-eyed Duck. The name is cumbersome, though, and risks being abbreviated to White-eye with the consequent confusion with species of Zosterops". But is it such a wonderful name, given that only the males have white eyes?

The 'White-bellied Duck' was once suggested, as its white belly is a characteristic feature, but it is usually invisible, hidden underwater when the bird is swimming, and obvious only in flight. Other suggestions are barely applicable: 'Copperhead' is a type of snake; 'Bar-wing' could easily apply to dozens of species, ranging from budgerigars to godwits; and a 'White-eye', as we have seen, is already taken and, anyway, is blatantly sexist (nevertheless, female Blackbirds aren't black ...).

So why is it called a 'Hardhead'? It seems that taxidermists, and not taxonomists, have held sway on this one. When skinning these ducks to prepare mounted specimens, they apparently found it difficult (hard) to remove the viscera from around the unfortunate bird's head. From this obscure origin, this snappy species has been labelled a 'Hardhead' forever more.

If you want to discover more information about this species or any other birds that occur in Australia, just take a little time to explore the Birdata website, or visit the BirdLife Australia website at www.birdlife.org.au . You never know what you might find.


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