Black-bellied Whistling Duck

The black-bellied whistling duck is a highly gregarious, noisy waterfowl species that belongs to the genus Dendrocygna of the family Anatidae (which includes geese, swans, and ducks). The spectacular white markings on its wings (visible while in flight), a bright pink bill, and unusually long legs are some of the distinguishing features of this species. The black-bellied whistling duck, being one among the only two species of whistling ducks in North America, is sometimes called the ‘Mexican squealer’ or simply ‘whistling duck’ in the southern United States.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Anseriformes
Anatidae
Dendrocygna
Dendrocygna autumnalis

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Scientific Classification

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Anseriformes
Anatidae
Dendrocygna
Dendrocygna autumnalis

Currently, it has two recognized subspecies, including the northern black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis fulgens) and the southern black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis autumnalis). The northern subspecies is larger than the southern whistling duck and has a brown breast as compared to the gray breast of the latter.

Physical Description and Appearance

Size: It is a medium-sized waterfowl, with length ranging from 47-56 cm (19-22 in). Its wingspan varies 76 and 94 cm (30 and 37 in).

Weight: It weighs anywhere between 652 and 1,020 g (1.437 and 2.249 lb).

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Color: It has a pale gray head, black belly and tail, grayish or chestnut brown body plumage, cap, and back of the neck. Its upper neck and face are gray, while its thin eye-ring is distinctively white.

Body: It has a medium-sized body with a relatively large bill, head, and neck, short tail, and long legs. While it is in flight, you can identify a black-bellied whistling duck by its long neck, broad wings, and hunched back.

Legs: Its long pink legs can be easily spotted while it is parched in trees.

Distribution

Its breeding range extends from the southernmost USA through tropical Central America and finally reaches south-central South America. It is found throughout the year in some American states, including coastal Alabama, parts of Texas, and peninsular Florida. While it seasonally occurs in Louisiana’s Gulf Coast and southeast Arizona, it sometimes breeds in different locations like Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Georgia.

What Kind of Habitats do Black-bellied Whistling Ducks live in

It inhabits quiet shallow lakes, marshes, and freshwater ponds, as well as reservoirs and cultivated land. It often forages in dry fields and irrigated lands, usually nesting in hollow tree cavities and on the ground.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Nest
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Habitat

Lifespan

In the wild, the black-bellied whistling duck has a lifespan of about 6-8 years, while in captivity, it can live for more than ten years. The oldest recorded specimen was found in Louisiana, and it lived for about ten years and seven months.

Diet

The black-bellied whistling duck mainly feeds on grains and seeds of grasses, smartweed, and other types of plant species. It also consumes snails, insects, and other aquatic invertebrates when available. The invertebrates constitute less than 10 percent of its diet.

Behavioral Characteristics

  • This whistling duck species, being quite tame and friendly, forms large flocks except when it is breeding. It is also mostly resident apart from its local seasonal movements.
  • It typically rests on low branches above water, but occasionally perches high in branches of dead trees.
  • It can feed at any time of the day and has also been observed to eat at night.
  • This waterfowl species is not a strongly migratory bird. Flocks of birds from some of the northern breeding areas (including Louisiana, Arizona, and Texas) travel south in winter. The movement is considered to be local dispersal and not a long-range migration.
  • It wades through shallow water to reach the taller plants. It may partially immerse its body and lift its tail to reach below the surface of the water.
  • It produces different vocalizations, including a soft, high whistling noise, which it uses while standing, swimming, or as a flight call. It also makes a yip while taking flight or a chit-chit-chit sound in flight.
Picture of Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Image

Adaptations

  • The black-bellied whistling duck has important adaptations for grazing on land, including a parallel-sided maxilla (bone forming the upper bill), as well as less pronounced nails.
  • Its long legs help it in keeping its balance while climbing and perching.

Mating and Reproduction

This whistling duck species has a monogamous mating system, which means a breeding pair mates for life, a trait that is common with swans and geese. Before laying its eggs, the duck looks for a nesting site. As a cavity nester, the black-bellied whistling duck prefers living in a hollow tree. However, it may nest on the ground, with the nest being close to a water body. It also uses abandoned buildings, barns, chimneys, or human-made nest boxes as a nest site.

The female duck lays about 12-16 whitish eggs. Both the parent ducks take part in incubating the eggs, which continues for 25-30 days. The ducklings may climb the walls of the nest and jump to the ground within 1-2 days after hatching. The young ones are able to feed themselves immediately, but they remain with their parents for two months.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Eggs
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Babies

What does the Baby Black-bellied Whistling Duck look like

The juvenile resembles a young white-faced whistling duck in appearance. It is characterized by a darker bill and thin, indistinct white vertical marking on its black flanks.

Conservation Status

This species of whistling duck has been listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN Red List. Their population has been steadily increasing and is currently estimated at 1,100,000-2,000,000.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Bird
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Flying

Interesting Facts

  • Female black-bellied whistling ducks may lay their eggs in others’ nests, called ‘dump nests’. Each of these dump nests may contain more than 50-60 eggs.
  • They build their ground nests with weeds and grasses, but their cavity nests are either bare or contain some wood chips.
  • The black-bellied whistling duck was previously known as the black-bellied tree duck.

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