The last living pink-headed duck is was seen in the wild in 1949 in India
While other birds have pink feathers no other game birds have them
Scientists studied a stuffed specimen from the Smithsonian Museum
They found a pigment seen in flamingos was responsible for the colour
PUBLISHED: 23:02, 27 January 2016 | UPDATED: 23:46, 27 January 2016
A stuffed duck with unusual pink feathers around its head has been used to solve a puzzle about how the extinct species of bird got its vivid plumage.
The pink-headed duck is thought to have died out 67 years ago, leaving scientists baffled about how it developed the distinctive colouration that earned the bird its name.
While some birds such as flamingos are known to be pink due to the large quantities of red and blue-green algae they consume, how the pink-headed duck got its colour was a mystery.
Scientists used the 68-year-old stuff remains of a pink-headed duck (pictured top) to work out what is responsible for the animal's vivid plumage around its head (close up bottom left). Scientists found natural pigments called carotenoids (illustrated in the graph bottom right) were responsible for the distinct pink colour
Now scientists have used a stuffed specimen that has been held by the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, for 68 years to solve the puzzle.
They used an advanced non-destructive testing method known as Raman spectroscopy to examine the bird's feathers.
They found the ducks, which were endemic to the Gangetic plains of India and Bangladesh, used the same organic pigments - carotenoids - as flamingos to produce their pink plumage.
The only other duck to be found to have these carotenoids is in the feathers of the tiny 'ear' spots of Australia's Pink-eared Duck – an animal which is otherwise entirely black, brown, and white.