Photo: Olivia Graves/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Dendrocygna autumnalis

A spectacularly marked, sociable, noisy waterfowl. Often rests on low snags above water, and may perch high in dead trees. In North America found mostly near Mexican border, but has increased in numbers recently, partly because it will use nest boxes put out for it. In some areas (such as coastal Texas), feeding of this species has become popular, with landowners tossing out corn near ponds to attract hundreds of whistling-ducks.
Conservation status North American population has greatly increased since 1950s. In Texas and eastern Mexico, providing of nest boxes probably helped this expansion. In Arizona (where most nests apparently are on ground), species was very rare before 1949, has since become a fairly common nesting bird.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Ponds, fresh marshes. Favors shallow freshwater lakes; may come to those in open country, but seems to favor ponds surrounded by trees. Will nest on ground or in tree cavities. When foraging, often in dry fields, also in irrigated land.
A spectacularly marked, sociable, noisy waterfowl. Often rests on low snags above water, and may perch high in dead trees. In North America found mostly near Mexican border, but has increased in numbers recently, partly because it will use nest boxes put out for it. In some areas (such as coastal Texas), feeding of this species has become popular, with landowners tossing out corn near ponds to attract hundreds of whistling-ducks.
Photo Gallery
  • adults
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  • adults
Feeding Behavior

Does much foraging on land, and may feed by day or night. Flocks come to harvested fields to feed on waste grain, also to prairies and overgrown pastures. In shallow water may wade to reach emergent plants, or may dabble at surface or tip up to reach under water.


Eggs

12-16. Whitish. Females may lay eggs in each others' nests; such "dump nests" may have 50-60 or more eggs. Incubation is by both sexes, 25-30 days. Young: Ducklings in cavity nests can climb walls of cavity, jump to ground 1 or 2 days after hatching. Young tended by both parents, find all their own food. Young fledge at about 2 months.


Young

Ducklings in cavity nests can climb walls of cavity, jump to ground 1 or 2 days after hatching. Young tended by both parents, find all their own food. Young fledge at about 2 months.

Diet

Mainly seeds and grains. Feeds mostly on seeds of various grasses, also of smartweed and other plants. Insects, snails, and other invertebrates make up less than 10% of diet.


Nesting

May mate for life. Often nests in colonies. Nest site usually in tree cavity or broken-off stub, 4-20' above ground or water. Tree nests on land usually close to water, but can be up to 1/4 mile from it. Also frequently nests on ground, in dense low growth near water. Many now use nest boxes; have also nested in chimneys, barns. Cavity nests are bare or with a few wood chips, but ground nests are woven of grasses and weeds.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Not strongly migratory. Flocks disappear in winter from some, but not all, northern breeding areas. Small flocks may wander well to north of normal range.

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Migration

Not strongly migratory. Flocks disappear in winter from some, but not all, northern breeding areas. Small flocks may wander well to north of normal range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Mellow whistles.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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