Torrent duck - master of the raging rapids

Most duck species prefer calm and tranquil water bodies where they can relax, paddle around happily at their leisure and feed on the algae and other vegetation around. However, there is one species of duck which loves or should I say, thrives in a much rougher and chaotic aquatic environment. That is the Torrent duck.

So aptly named, the Torrent duck (Merganetta armata) calls the torrential, raging rapids of rivers, dotted by slippery boulders, it’s home. Very few birds have in fact been able to adapt to such a fast-flowing stream environment.

Torrent ducks are resident breeders in the Andes of South America, nesting in small waterside caves and other sheltered areas. Though these ducks enjoy the rapids, it is not that they are always expending their energies riding the powerful currents. They do take a break every now and then and find nice resting spots away from the rapids.

Torrent ducks were on my wish list as I embarked on my trip to Ecuador in Dec last year, though I knew these weren’t that easy to come by, more so in Ecuador. I had read on multiple blogs from birders who had visited Ecuador but had missed sighting this bird. On the other hand, there were also mentions of a couple of lodges in Ecuador around which there were records of reasonably regular sightings. However, in Nature, things are pretty fluid and unpredictable.

The regular locations that were mentioned online weren’t fruitful for us. As I mentioned, Nature is unpredictable, always! :-)

Throughout our journey in Ecuador, our amazing guide, Jorge Luna never lost hope and relentlessly kept exploring the streams near our places of stay to see if we could catch a glimpse of this wonderful bird. His persistent efforts paid off and how!! Complete credit for this sighting goes to him exclusively!

One afternoon, we were on a visit to a popular bird hide, doing armchair birding and photography when Jorge left us to ourselves and went along with our vehicle driver to explore the riverside nearby. Within a short time, he came running back to us, panting. Drawing heavy breaths he asked us to follow him and that he had something to show us. A few of us followed and soon came by the strong flowing river. He asked us to be quiet and we slowly crawled inside a thicket and towards the water’s edge. That is when we saw the bird! It was the Torrent duck, a female.

The lady soon climbed up a rock face and settled in a nice crevice.

Torrent duck (female) resting

This was great! We finally got to see the Torrent duck. We were very happy indeed!

We got up slowly and walked around and out of the thickets. The trail opened into a wide space with the river flowing to our left and its bank landscaped by huge boulders. That is when we caught sight of the handsome male Torrent duck floating along downstream. He slowly climbed atop a rock in the middle of the river, a handsome individual he was.

Torrent duck (male)

We had seen a female and then a male too, what more could we have asked for.

However, sometimes when Nature decides to shower you with her blessings, she tends to be graciously liberal :-)

As we were focused on the male posing for us on a big boulder, we hardly noticed a couple more of the Torrent ducks, what looked like females, that had climbed onto another boulder diagonally opposite the male, at a distance.

Torrent duck (females)

These two females began engaging in some kind of display.

Torrent duck (females displaying)

This vigorous display and calling seemed to be some kind of communication with the male on the other side and the male immediately responded. He leapt into the raging rapids in an effort to get to the females.

Have to say that these Torrent ducks are true adrenaline junkies. There was absolutely no hesitation or second thoughts about diving into the powerful and raging currents.

See how the bird rides the rapids with such ease.

Am sure, for us, manoeuvring these rapids in coracles and rafts would be tough enough, forget about stepping foot in there. With such powerful currents and slippery rocks, it would all seem near impossible, not for this amazing bird. This is just the kind of place the Torrent duck loves to be in, a thrill seeker, an aberration among ducks :-) A true master of the rapids!

As soon as the male reached the spot where the females were, he saw that only one of the females had stayed put. The male then started to engage the female in the display and started chasing her around.

Not sure of the motivation behind all that chasing around, take a guess :-) But he wasn't very successful though!

Now, that was one fascinating show put forth by these amazing birds!! Pure gold, as far as I was concerned. To say that we were elated would be an understatement.

Such amazing birds these Torrent ducks are! Unfortunately, this is a declining species due to competition for its invertebrate food from introduced trout, pollution, forest destruction, and damming of mountain rivers for hydroelectric schemes. Hope better sense prevails and these birds adapt and grow in numbers.

Hope you enjoyed the post. Please do drop in a comment to share your thoughts.

Until next time…


Deepa Mohan

Wonderful sighting and excellent documentation Santosh! If I was so thrilled just to go through this entry, I can only imagine how you must have felt while watching all of it happen! I don’t know if I will ever go to Ecuador, or even if I do, whether I will see this so-aptly-named Torrent Duck….thank you for bringing it to me in the comfort of my home.
Reply to Deepa Mohan
Alok Bhave

Beautiful narration supported by photos and videos. Such beautiful bird and what an amazing behavior. Thank you for sharing this amazing blog Santosh!!!
Reply to Alok Bhave

GitHub-flavored Markdown & a sane subset of HTML is supported.