American Black Duck
At a Glance
A close relative of the Mallard, the Black Duck is better adapted to wooded country. With the clearing of forest, it has steadily lost ground to spreading populations of Mallards. In its stronghold along the Atlantic Coast it is a hardy bird, wintering farther north than most dabbling ducks. It is among the few dabblers to prosper in tidewater areas; pairs and small parties of Black Ducks are often seen flying over the salt marsh, their white wing linings flashing in bright contrast to their dark bodies.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Duck-like Birds, Surface Feeding Ducks
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Southeast
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Those breeding in northern interior may migrate long distances, but coastal and southerly birds may move only short distances. Fall migration is often late in season, as waters freeze or food supply is depleted. Much of migration apparently occurs at night.
23" (58 cm). Both sexes suggest female Mallard, but with much darker body, gray head. Speculum on wing dark purple, lacks bold white edges shown by Mallard; in flight, the white underwings are striking in contrast to the dark body. Male has yellow bill, female's is duller. Often interbreeds with Mallard, so hybrids are frequently seen in the northeast.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Orange, Purple, Tan, Yellow
Broad, Pointed, Tapered
Songs and Calls
Typical duck quack.
Marshes, bays, estuaries, ponds, rivers, lakes. Wide variety of aquatic habitats; found on lakes in northern forest and in salt marsh more often than most dabblers. Majority in winter in coastal estuaries and tidal marshes, lesser numbers on inland lakes, tree-lined ponds, wooded swamps.
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7-11, sometimes 6-12, rarely 4-17. Creamy white to greenish buff. Incubation by female only, 23-33 days, typically 26-29.
all eggs typically hatch in space of a few hours. Female leads young to water, often after dark. Ducklings find their own food. Young fledge at age of about 2 months, and are abandoned by female about that time.
feeds in water by dabbling, up-ending, rarely by diving; feeds on land by grazing, plucking seeds, grubbing for roots.
omnivorous. Diet varies with location and season. On fresh water, feeds mainly on plant material, including seeds, leaves, roots, berries. Seeds of various grasses, pondweeds, sedges, and others often a major part of diet. In tidal zones may feed mainly on mussels, clams, snails, small crustaceans, aquatic arthropods. Young ducklings eat many insects.
Older birds may form pairs by early fall and remain together until following summer. Nest site variable; usually near water, as on banks or small islands, but can be up to a mile distant. Generally on ground among clumps of dense vegetation, sometimes in raised situation as on top of stump, in large tree cavity, on duck blind in water. Typical ground nest (built by female) is a shallow depression with plant material added, lined with down.
Still abundant locally, but has declined drastically in interior parts of range. Clearing of forest has favored invasion by Mallards, which hybridize extensively with Black Ducks, leading to genetic "swamping" of population.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the American Black Duck. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the American Black Duck
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.