British Waterfowl Association

Fuegian Steamerduck

Magellanic Steamerduck
Fuegian/Magellanic Steamerducks - Morag Jones

Tachyeres pteneres

The Fuegian Steamerduck (or Magellanic Steamerduck) of the west coast of Chile is by far the most numerous of the steamerducks. It is regularly propagated in Europe but needs to be held in its own enclosure. All four races of steamerducks are pugnacious. They rarely tolerate intruders of any species into their territory. This has devastating consequences even in the wild. Murder for no real apparent reason is occasionally seen. Some studies suggest that this behaviour is part of the pair-bonding ritual. There are well-documented cases of steamerducks in captivity killing much bigger birds such as swans if they are too close.

They do not migrate and have few predators in their home habitat. The diminutive Andean Culpeo fox might fancy a duck dinner but at a similar weight, he generally has the sense to steer clear. Sea lions of course will take them, given the opportunity. They are principally a marine bird, with oversized feet.

Steamerducks feed on a variety of small marine animals living on the seabed. They will upend to feed in very shallow water, but mainly they dive to secure their prey. Mussels are a firm favourite and they have no trouble if they take in salt water. Like other sea ducks, they have a large gland above and between the eyes which filters excess salt from the blood. The resulting concentrated salt is expelled through the nostrils.

If you love a duck with attitude, look no further. These guys are big and brutal, the drakes frequently weigh 4.5 to 6 kilos. The name suggests their habit of thrashing over the surface like a paddle steamer, often at considerable speed when they are escaping danger or fighting with each other.