British Waterfowl Association

Crested Shelduck

illustration of Male Crested Shelduck by Mark Hulme
Male Crested Shelduck — Mark Hulme

Tadorna cristata

The shelducks are one of the most successful of all the family Anatidae. Five of the six members of the Tadorna shelduck group have a conservation status of least concern. The one exception is the Crested Shelduck, which is listed as critical. The last possible sighting was in 1964, while there have been subsequent reports of these elusive birds being seen in Korea, China and Russia, but no photographic evidence to back these claims. Most experts believe that this handsome duck has been extinct since the 1920s.

What is a mystery is why this duck was always so rare, and why it died out. Only three museum specimens exist, and there are no photographs of live birds. It has been suggested that the Crested Shelduck is not a true species but a hybrid, however, ancient Japanese prints and Chinese tapestries suggest otherwise. There are also old Japanese records that suggest that these ducks were regularly imported to Japan from Korea two centuries ago.

The chances of a relict population of these ducks being found somewhere in Far Eastern Russia are now exceedingly slim, so this duck, like the Pink-headed and the Labrador, is almost certainly extinct.