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A brown and grey duck with a black belly standing at the entrance to a large birdhouse
Information icon Black-bellied whistling duck. Photo by Stacey Hayden, USFWS.

Black-bellied whistling duck

Dendrocygna autumnalis

The black-bellied whistling duck is sometimes described as part goose and part duck because of its rather peculiar physical features and behaviors. Like many goose species, black-bellied whistling ducks graze on grasses in upland areas, but they also nest in tree cavities similar to wood ducks. This species is highly gregarious, adaptable to using urban areas, and highly recognizable due to its pink bill and legs.

Conservation Status

Low concern.

Range

Black-bellied whistling ducks are found in southern portions of the Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways during summer, but they mostly leave the U.S. and migrate to Mexico and South America by early fall. Abundance is greatest along the U.S. Gulf Coast, but the species seems to be rapidly expanding its breeding range northward. This species was historically considered non-migratory, but migration certainly occurs in the northern and southern portions of their range.

Habitat

Black-bellied whistling ducks inhabit freshwater swamps, marshes, and costal lagoons, favoring habitat with dense vegetation and surrounded by tree thickets. This is partially due to their nests usually being built in tree cavities, helping to earn them the nickname “tree ducks.” The species has become well adapted to feeding in agricultural fields and, as a result, large flocks can be seen foraging in pastures and open fields. Although specific management activities for whistling ducks on national wildlife refuges are currently limited, these cavity-nesting ducks will readily use wood duck boxes after they are done nesting and artificial nesting boxes probably substantially benefit this species in the northern portion of their range.

Diet

Like many other duck species, black-bellied whistling ducks are known to feed in both shallow water and on land; however, they are unique in that they often feed at night. They are primarily herbivorous and forage mainly on cultivated grain, grasses, and wetland plants. Only a small part of their diet consist of animal matter, such as leeches, snail, and beetles.

How you can help

You can help this species and other waterfowl by purchasing a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. The Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp is a nonprofit organization that supports promotion, preservation, sales, and better understanding of the Federal Duck Stamp’s conservation mission.

Subject matter experts

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

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