In search of the Pink-headed Duck in Myanmar

Of the world’s many bird species, the Pink-headed Duck has long been a mystery. It has not been seen since 1935, in northeast India (Bangladesh). It is so strangely coloured that, even after reading this book, some people question whether such a bird can really exist.

(The author is happy to speak to journalists and interested researchers about his work and experience in Myanmar. For his contact details, please email [email protected]. This book is currently published in Dutch. This is the English summary of the book and an illustration is attached.)

Book title: Roze is een kleur; Zoektochten naar een eend in Myanmar

Pink is a colour; Searching for a duck in Myanmar

Author: Joost van der Ven
267 pages; Uitgeverij IJzer, Utrecht

Of the world’s many bird species, the Pink-headed Duck has long been a mystery. It has not been seen since 1935, in northeast India (Bangladesh). It is so strangely coloured that, even after reading this book, some people question whether such a bird can really exist.

In fact, since 1920 many people have taken a special interest in searching for the Pink-headed Duck, in both India and Bangladesh, but without success. A small team of ornithologists led by the author thought it might be possible that the few observations made in Burma in the past could lead to chance sightings in remote areas. Before Smythies, in 1945, very few birdwatchers had visited Burma. After 1945 the country was off limits to foreigners and curious ornithologists. In 1995, however, Burma was opened up again, and in 1999 the team were among the first people to travel relatively freely in the remote areas of the country: many parts of Burma were visited between 1999 and 2007.

This is not a scientific bird book. Rather, it relates the history of the Pink-headed Duck and Burma, and describes several expeditions: the results, the pleasures and the misfortunes. The expedition teams travelled by boat, many different cars, bicycles, elephants, and on foot; Burma is not an easy
country to get around.



Contents of the Dutch edition of Roze is een kleur: Zoektochten naar een eend in Myanmar


Part 1 A Duck: the Pink-headed Duck
-A Covenant
-Around 1850, the ‘Pink-headed Duck’ was found
-The Pink-headed Duck in the 19th/20th centuries
-The Pink-headed Duck in captivity
-Is the Pink-headed Duck extinct?

‘A Covenant’ starts with a story about the duck and the first days of the Creation as recounted in the Bible. The Pink-headed Duck was not actually discovered until 1850. Lady Impey, wife of the Chief Justice of Bengal, had these ducks in her aviaries in Calcutta before the species had a name. The ornithologist Latham described the Pink-headed Duck for the first time using a dead bird, and he may also have used a picture by Bhawani Das, commissioned by Lady Impey. The duck is traced through the records made by ornithologists Blyth, Jerdon, Hodgson and Hume, and early descriptions. Years later, however, the ornithologist Smythies found no sign of the Pink-headed Duck whatsoever. All the other sightings that have been made of the species are also mentioned.

In the 1920s Alfred Ezra (at Foxwarren, UK) and Jean Delacour (at Clères, France) had bird collections and held some Pink-headed Ducks. Several collections are described, including that of Lord Lilford (at Lilford Hall, UK).

An overview is presented of observations of Pink-headed Ducks made in recent years. However, the reliability of the records is doubtful, in all cases.

Part 2 A Country: Myanmar, South East Asia
-‘Cheese-heads’ and hotheads
-‘A country at war: 1930-2010’
-Towards a Pink Revolution?

The second part of the book is Dutch-oriented to some extent as history relating to the Dutch in Burma (before it was annexed by the British) is highlighted. The 80 years of war in Burma also reflect Dutch history and the Dutch fight for independence during eighty years. (In an English translation this chapter should be changed to summarise the Dutch history and include more British history). However, the road towards a ‘pink revolution’ refers to the ‘soft’ revolutions in the various countries of the USSR in recent years.

The country’s name, Myanma(r), is discussed, and comparisons are made with Bombay/Mumbai. The role and approach of the ruling military regime are also described, as is the recent loss of large areas of forest and the consequent lack of habitat suitable for the Pink-headed Duck.

Part 3 Searching for the Pink-headed Duck
-The miseries of travel
-Searching for a duck

To avoid a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant happenings, the ‘miseries of travel’ are brought together in the first section. The reader may need a strong stomach to cope with this section!

The many expeditions are not discussed individually. The most important information was gathered around a few important areas such as the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin, Indawgyi Lake, Fort Hertz and Pakhan; maps are included. The author pokes fun lightly at some of the self-important officials encountered along the way. The most important observations are described, as are the activities, landscape and people of Myanmar.

Additional information:
Appendix 1 New bird species discovered in SE Asia
Appendix 2 Justification and clarification
Appendix 3 The meaning of colours


Members of the expeditions were: Joost van der Ven, Gerard Ouweneel, the Netherlands, John Howes, Wetlands International and Luscinia Consulting Sdn Bhd , Malaysia, Prakash Gole, Ecological Society of India and many others, mainly from Myanmar

Joost van der Ven (67) was Inspector for Nature Conservation in the Netherlands State Forestry. He later joined the IWRB (International Waterfowl Research Bureau) at Slimbridge as Assistant Director – Development. In 1998 he was Interim Director of the Wetlands International office in Kuala Lumpur. Earlier he had served for many years as Agricultural Counsellor at the Netherlands Embassy in Moscow and earlier still as attaché for West- and Central-Africa and in Paris.

Joost has carried out several projects in Kyrgyzia for the EU and has written four books about the natural history of that country, one being a children’s book about birds. He has worked on projects for the Ramsar Convention in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzia, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Slovakia etc. Since 1999 he has worked mainly in Myanmar, conducting expeditions, inventories, observations and courses for forestry personnel.

Published: 04 Oct 2007


Contact details:

Asia Research News
News topics: 
Content type: