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Pink-headed Duck Rhodonessa caryophyllacea
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This species has not been conclusively seen in the wild since 1949; it was always considered rare, and is likely to have declined severely through a combination of hunting and habitat loss. However, further surveys are needed of remote wetlands in northern Myanmar where there has been a possible recent sighting and credible local reports were received in 2006. Any remaining population is likely to be tiny, and for these reasons it is treated as Critically Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

60 cm. Graceful, long-necked duck. Males have deep pink head and neck, blackish-brown centre of throat, foreneck and most of remaining plumage. Rosy-pinkish bill. In flight, pale brownish-buff secondaries, narrow, whitish leading edge to wing-coverts and pale pink underwing. Females have duller and browner body, pale greyish-pink head and upper neck with brownish wash on crown and hindneck and duller bill. Juvenile has duller brown body than female, with fine, whitish feather fringes. Voice Males utter weak whistle, females a low quack. Hints Search remote, overgrown wetlands in north-east India and northern Myanmar.

Distribution and population
Rhodonessa caryophyllacea was locally distributed in the wetlands of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and occurred rarely in Nepal, with most records from north-east India and adjacent Bangladesh. It was always considered uncommon or rare and was last definitely seen in the wild in 1949, surviving until around the same time in captivity. Recent "sightings" and positive leads from a series of questionnaires about its possible continued existence in north-east India were the result of confusion with Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina. Five searches in Kachin State, Myanmar, between April 2003 and December 2006 gained a possible sighting (in 2004), two credible reports from local fishermen and during the 2006 survey focused at Nawng Kwin and the grasslands and oxbow lakes along the Indawgyi River the team gathered the most convincing reports to date from a local fisherman that the species still occurs in the area (Tordoff et al. 2008). Further searches took place in January 2008 in northern Kachin State, focusing on the three sites from which there had been recent reports or claims, but the team failed to find convincing evidence of the species's continued existence there (Eames 2008). In January 2014 a small team conducted a search around Khamti in north-west Myanmar following a possible sighting of the species by a farmer in 2011 (R. Thorns in litt. 2013). The search did not find evidence of the species in this area (Thorns 2014).

Population justification
Any remaining population is assumed to be tiny (numbering fewer than 50 individuals and mature individuals) based on a lack of records and failure of surveys to find it.

It is shy and secretive, inhabiting secluded and overgrown still-water pools, marshes and swamps in lowland forest and tall grasslands, particularly areas subject to seasonal inundation and, in winter, also lagoons adjoining large rivers. Outside the breeding season it was usually encountered in small groups and occasionally flocks of 30-40. Some, and possibly all, populations undertook local seasonal movements, resulting in scattered historical records as far afield as Punjab, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in India. Conjecture from researchers conducting surveys for the species has suggested that it may be nocturnal, explaining the difficulty in locating it, and the reason behind its unique colouration (J. Eames in litt. 2006).

Its decline likely resulted from habitat loss. Clearance of forest and conversion of wetlands for agricultural land has destroyed much of its habitat. Furthermore, it suffered year-round persecution during a period (the late 19th and early 20th centuries) when hunting levels in India were high. A number of other waterbird species have declined in South and South-East Asia as a consequence of human disturbance and/or hunting pressure and egg collection. However, these species, e.g. White-winged Duck Cairinia scutulata, do persist in parts of South and South-East Asia, suggesting that hunting pressure alone is unlikely to have caused the species's extirpation (Tordoff et al. 2008). While the species was hunted historically, the role that this has played in its decline remains uncertain (J. Eames in litt. 2007, Tordoff et al. 2008). The invasive alien species water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes may have contributed to its decline by altering wetland habitats to the detriment of this species (J. Eames in litt. 2006).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix II. Throughout the 1950s there were attempts to clarify its status, culminating in a literature and museum specimen review. It was subsequently searched for in some key areas. Since 1956, it has been legally protected. Since 2003, BirdLife International in Indochina and the Biodiversity and National Conservation Association (BANCA) have conducted a number of searches in Kachin State, Myanmar, the most recent taking place in January 2008 (Eames 2008). A search was conducted around Khamti in north-west Myanmar in January 2014 but was unsuccessful (Thorns 2014).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Locate (provisionally using satellite imagery) and systematically survey any remaining remote and large tracts of suitable habitat within its former range, particularly north Bihar, Assam, India, and Kachin, Rakhine and possibly Chin States, Myanmar, and interview local hunters. Attempt night-time surveys given the species's potential nocturnal habits (Tordoff et al. 2008). Should it be rediscovered, stringent protection measures should be implemented to ensure the survival of any populations. Where possible introduce formal protected area status or non-formal management by local stakeholders for key wetland sites that may support this species (and which are known to support other Globally Threatened waterbirds) (Tordoff et al. 2008).

Anon. 2003. Pink-headed Duck survey in the Hukaung Valley, Myanmar. Babbler 8: 6-7.

Anon. 2006. Pink-headed Duck eludes latest BirdLife/BANCA survey. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 28.

BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Eames, J. C. 2008. Latest survey fails to find Pink-headed Duck. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 31-32.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Thorns, R. 2014. Khamti town and the restricted wetlands further down the Chindwin river. January 2014. Available at: (Accessed: 27/05/2015).

Tordoff, A. W.; Appleton, T.; Eames, J. C.; Eberhardt, K.; Htin Hla; Khin Ma Ma Thwin; Sao Myo Zaw; Saw Moses; Sein Myo Aung. 2008. The historical and current status of Pink-headed Duck Rhodonessa caryophyllacea in Myanmar. Bird Conservation International 18(1): 38-52.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Davidson, P., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Tobias, J. & Ashpole, J

Eames, J.C. & Thorns, R.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Rhodonessa caryophyllacea. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Pink-headed duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Critically Endangered
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Latham, 1790)
Population size 1-49 mature individuals
Population trend Unknown
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species