The Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) is a whistling duck that uniquely breeds monogamously "for life" (as do swans and geese) in the southernmost United States and tropical Central and South America.
The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is a common but wary species. It is largely resident, apart from local movements. It usually nests in hollow trees. The habitat is quiet freshwater lakes, cultivated land or reservoirs with plentiful vegetation, where this duck feeds mainly at night on seeds and other plant food. It is highly gregarious, forming large flocks when not breeding. As the name implies, these are noisy birds with a clear whistling waa-chooo call.
It is known as pijije in Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico and Cuba.
The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is 48-53 cm (19-21 in) long. It has a long red bill, long head and longish legs, pale grey head and mostly grey-brown plumage. The belly is black and the large white wing bar is visible in flight.
All plumages are similar, except that juveniles have a grey bill and less contrasted belly. Due to its unique appearance, this species is almost unmistakable. With an upright stance, long pink legs, and long neck, adult Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are unlikely to be confused with any other species within their range. The belly is black, and the back, breast, lower neck, and cap are a rich chestnut brown. The face and upper neck are gray, and they sport a distinct white eye-ring. The extensive white in the wings is obvious in flight.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks prefer shallow freshwater ponds, lakes, and marshes. Tree-lined bodies of water are of particular value. The species was formerly known as the Black-bellied Tree Duck; as this name suggests, they are quite fond of perching. Additionally, tree cavities provide nesting sites. This species can also be seen "loafing"? in flocks on golf courses and other grassy areas near suitable waterways.
Feeding often occurs nocturnally, but can occur at any hour. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks ingest a wide variety of plant material, but also consume insects and aquatic invertebrates when available. They often feed on submerged vegetation by wading through shallow water. In Mexico, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is known as "pato maizal,"? or cornfield duck, as it is commonly seen gleaning recently harvested fields.
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is unique among ducks, in that pairs often stay together for many years, a trait more often associated with geese and swans. Both parents share all tasks associated with the raising of young, from incubation to the rearing of ducklings. The ducks, primarily cavity nesters, prefer the confines of a hollow tree, but will nest on the ground when necessary. They also make use of chimneys, abandoned buildings, or nest boxes, the latter having been increasingly provided to them over recent decades, especially in southeast Texas and Mexico. Ducklings leap from nest cavities within two days of hatching, can feed themselves immediately, and stay with the parents for up to eight weeks.
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is mainly non-migratory. Birds in the extreme northern portions of their range (Arizona, Louisiana, and parts of Texas) move south in winter. At the heart of their range, there is a tendency to travel in flocks over the winter months, though this behavior is not necessarily migratory.
Global population: 1,550,000
Audubon State of the Birds Status: no current conservation concerns
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is an unusual species among North American waterfowl. With its long legs, peculiar appearance, and odd habits, it was described by one early American ornithologist as "most un-duck-like."? Its numbers are increasing in North America.
Range and distribution
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a common bird on the Mexico coast. To the south, its range extends throughout Central America, and across much of South America. In the United States, it can be found year-round in parts of southeast Texas, and seasonally in southeast Arizona, and Louisiana's Gulf Coast. It is a rare breeder in such disparate locations as Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina.
Population status and trends
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck populations are currently stable or increasing. The species expanded its range significantly in the latter half of the 20th century, and has benefited in recent years from the placement of nest boxes across key portions of its range. Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count data both confirm that populations of this species have increased significantly over the past 30 years.
Conservation issues and efforts
The existence of healthy coastal wetlands greatly benefits Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. In past years, over-hunting was a serious concern , largely due to the species' relatively docile nature. Current populations, however, seem to be secure in number.