FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

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.

Scientific Name

Dendrocygna autumnalis
Common Name
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Sound

A soft wheezy whistle. 

Size & Shape

The black-bellied whistling duck is a long-legged, long-necked duck appearing almost goose like. 

MeasurementsLength: 18.5 to 20.1 in (47 to 51 cm)Wingspan: 34 to 37 inches (94 cm)

Color & Pattern

Black-bellied whistling-ducks have an overall dark body, contrasting with their bright pink bill and legs. The breast is a chestnut brown and the belly is black. Male and female are similar in appearance. Young birds are duller in appearance and lack the pink bill.  

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Black-bellied whistling ducks inhabit freshwater swamps, marshes and costal lagoons. They favor habitat with dense vegetation and surrounded by tree thickets, partially due to their nests usually being built in tree cavities. This helped 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. Artificial nesting boxes probably have a substantial benefit for this species in the northern portion of their range.

Coastal
Lake
River or Stream
Wetland
Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Like many other duck species, black-bellied whistling ducks are known to feed in both shallow water and on land. What makes them unique is that they often feed at night. Black-bellied whistling ducks are primarily herbivorous and forage mainly on cultivated grain, grasses and wetland plants. Only a small part of their diet consists of animal matter, like leeches, snails and beetles.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

Black-bellied whistling ducks are found in southern portions of the Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways during summer, but they mostly leave the United States 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.

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