Torrent Duck - Strongman of the Tropical Rainforest
Ducks can be seen throughout the world but none can match the aquatic abilities of the Torrent Duck, found along the swift, turbulent streams of the Andean tropical rainforest. Its swimming prowess allows it to forage for food deep in the tempestuous waters and rapids created by glacier runoff. It is at home in a violent environment, daring to live where other inhabitants fear to enter.
The Torrent Duck of Ecuador's Tropical Rainforest
The Torrent Duck is fairly common along the Andean slopes from western Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. Within Ecuador it can be found in the tropical rainforest along swift-flowing rivers and streams on both slopes. Also, where conditions are amicable, this spectacular bird can be observed in the Inter-Andean valleys. Preferring altitudes above 1,500 meters (5,000 ft) it can be readily detected from 700 – 3,200 m (2,300 – 10,500 ft). Although there is little reason it should not be found along the entire slope of the west there are few reports of it south of Cotopaxi.
There is a significant sexual dimorphism that is obvious with the Torrent Duck, almost to the point of appearing as separate species. Both sexes exhibit the graceful slender body, long stiff tail and protruding spur from the bend of the wing. The irises of their eyes are brown and the narrow bill and legs are an obvious bright coral red in hue. From here the male and female differ greatly.
The male is handsomely colored with a predominantly white head sporting a black crown patch that extends down the hind neck. There is also a prominent black streak that starts just in front of the eye and stretches down the sides of the neck. The upper parts are grayish to brown with blackish and buff streaking. The hindquarters are densely vermiculated white and gray while the chest and lower parts are white and gray streaked.
In contrast, the female of the species displays a bluish gray coloration from mid-eye up that extends down the back, including wing-covers. This is streaked with black. The rump is similar to the male. Below the mid-eye and throughout the lower parts the female is a bright orange-cinnamon in hue.
This sleek little bird is celebrated for its swimming prowess, being able to navigate torrential waters of unimaginable proportion. Diving deep in the abysses in search of aquatic invertebrates, it will probe its way along the streambeds devouring such morsels as small trout, insect larvae and mollusks.
The Torrent Duck is a sedentary creature, ordinarily occurring in pairs. The female will lay its eggs in streamside caves and protected areas of the tropical rainforest. If surprised, these birds may take flight but will remain along the riverbed, flying low to the water. They will work their way upstream, foraging along the way. Although the Torrent Duck is quite numerous in Ecuador, pollution has diminished their numbers.
Although the Torrent Duck is quite common locally, it is not always easy to spot. When observed it is generally sitting on rocks in the center of swift-flowing rivers or streams but with a little diligence and patience, encountering this lovely creature can be a rewarding experience. Locations where the Torrent Duck can be seen are: Antisana Reserve, Copa Linga Lodge, Guango Lodge & Reserve, Guacamayos Ridge, Mindo Valley, Podocarpus-Bombuscaro & Vicinity, San Isidro Reserve, Tinalandia, Tapichalaca Reserve, and Tandayapa Valley.
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