A dark, mysterious and handsome stranger has touched down in the wetlands at Melbourne Water's Western Treatment Plant in Werribee. He has a shiny (Birthday Party era) Nick Cave-like black quiff and bright yellow eyes. Yes, he is a duck.
A tufted duck, to be precise, which has taken an 8000-kilometre-plus wrong turn on its migration route.
According to Sean Dooley, editor of Australian Birdlife Magazine, the bird has never been seen in Australia before. Normally it follows a migratory route from Northern Europe to Asia.
“For whatever reason when migrating south to Myanmar or Bangladesh, this one got off course or overshot where it would normally go … something went wrong with its navigation system and it just kept coming south,” says Dooley.
Dooley says “birders” and “twitchers” from all over Australia have been flocking to Werribee for an unlikely chance to glimpse the tufted duck.
“In the birdwatching world there are hardcore birdwatchers called twitchers who go chasing after rare sightings,” says Dooley. “To get an entirely new bird that’s never been seen in Australia, in a well-known birdwatching site within an hour of one of our major cities, is really what makes this remarkable.”
Melbourne-based musician and bird-lover James Mustafa, who identifies as a twitcher, made the trip to Werribee. This time he didn’t need to travel too far, but ordinarily he loves a good chase.
“I love getting on a plane and flying to the other end of the country hoping to see something like a tufted duck. That’s a big thrill and you get to see parts of Australia you otherwise might not,” Mustafa says of his birdwatching exploits.
Melbourne Water's Western Treatment Plant is not a bad place for a lost duck. The plant is bigger than Phillip Island and made up of large ponds, lakes and swamps – the same kind of environments the tufted duck normally inhabits.
“There are lots of ducks there at the moment because of the drought. [The tufted duck] is safe there, so it probably won’t go anywhere for a while,” says Mustafa.
Apparently, the duck has been spotted mingling with similar-looking local ducks known as hardheads.
“It’s certainly compatible to breed,” says Mustafa. “The tufted duck species itself is known for doing a lot of hybridisation, particularly back in Europe.”
Now Melbourne’s tufted duck has made it all the way to New York City, showing up on New York Magazine’s Instagram account, where it's been dubbed "Goth Duck". The city has been enamoured with good-looking ducks since its own billed hunk showed up in Central Park last October.
View this post on Instagram
Central Park's Hot Duck, the rare, mysterious Mandarin that captivated New York and became the city's most eligible bachelor, now has an Australian counterpart. But Australia's version of the Hot Duck is different: it's the Goth Duck, a tufted duck with black feathers, a black mohawk, and bright yellow eyes that say "danger." Tap the link in our bio for more details from @thecut on the Goth Duck from the land down under, who happens to live at a water treatment plant (?) in Melbourne. 📸: @melbournewater/Steve Young