Aytha australis

Hardhead, male. Photo: John Spiers

Hardheads belong to the worldwide Aythya genus (Pochards or Scaups) distinguished by the white or yellow eyes of the male.

Hardheads are mainly vegetarian. They feed on grasses, sedges and other aquatic vegetation, but also take aquatic animals including  small fish. They feed mainly by diving to depths not reached by most other duck species, but also forage by dabbling, head dipping and upending.

Hardhead, female. Photo: John Spiers

Like most duck species they breed in spring and early summer when wetlands are full of and vegetation is plentiful. They breed in single pairs and are probably monogamous at least for the current season. The nest consists of a platform of reeds, sedges and other plant matter concealed in dense vegetation. Incubation is by the female alone.





Males and females overall are very much alike. Both have dark, chestnut brown bodies, white undertail coverts, and abdomen. The underwing is white with a narrow brown border. The beak is blue-grey (blackish in male) with blue-grey sub-terminal band and a black nail. The male has white eyes while those of the female are brown. Females also have a whitish throat and chin. Juveniles are like females but are russet brown on the abdomen, and have more mottled underparts and a paler chin and throat.

Where to find it

Hardheads may be found in suitable habitat throughout the state (they favour large, deep-water lakes with abundant vegetation). In practice this means they are most abundant in the south-east of South Australia and absent from the west. They may be resident in some areas for most of the year but are prone to wander if conditions are not suitable, or conversely, if conditions are very good they may disperse widely.