BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
The Black-bellied whistling duck would fail the ‘duck test’ as it doesn’t quack, but rather whistles, hence the English name. It’s also called ‘tree’ duck as it nests in cavities in trees, but also in buildings and nest boxes. The word ‘autumnalis’ in the Latin name refers to the fact that these ducks feed on seeds and insects left in the fields after harvesting. They also wade in shallow water searching for plant material or invertebrates.
Contrary to other ducks, this species form monogamous pairs for years. This and other traits make them closer to geese and swans than other ducks. However they practice ‘egg-dumping’, i.e. lay their eggs in other nests of their own species, and also of other duck species.
The black-bellied whistling duck has a black belly and rump, a rusty brown breast and neck, bright pink bill and pink legs. The face, throat and neck sides are grey, and they have a dark brown stripe that starts from the top of the head going down to the back. There’s a white ring around the eye. The wing secondaries are light grey. They are around 21 inches (50 cm) long. Sexes look similar. They have long legs and a long neck, and look like geese in this way.
This bird is breeding in the southern USA, including Texas, but is found year-round in Florida and southward through northern Argentina. Its habitat encompasses many human-made environments such as golf courses, parks, and cultivated fields, in addition to ponds and marshes. Although impacted by DDT some decades ago, its numbers appear stable.
Whistling ducks are not true ducks, not because they don’t quack (and won’t pass the ‘duck test’) – they whistle as their name implies – but for scientific, taxonomic reasons. Also contrary to true ducks, whistling duck males and females have similar plumage.