At a Glance

A tropical duck, periodically invading southern Texas and Florida. Smaller than the Ruddy Duck and able to take flight from the water much more easily, the Masked Duck may colonize small and temporary bodies of water. It is generally easy to overlook, as it spends much time resting within dense marsh growth, and may clamber about through marsh like a rail. When on open water, however, it can be rather tame.
Category
Duck-like Birds, Ducks and Geese
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers
Region
Florida, Texas
Behavior
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats
Population
200.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

May travel mostly at night. Apparently not truly migratory, but wanders unpredictably. Seems to invade Texas from eastern Mexico after a series of unusually wet years has created much appropriate habitat. Strays have wandered far outside normal range, reaching Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania.

Description

12-14" (30-36 cm). Shape of Ruddy Duck, with flat bill, stiff tail feathers. Breeding male is reddish with black face; female and nonbreeding male with two strong dark stripes on buffy face. White wing patch shows in flight.
Size
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Color
Black, Brown, Gray, Orange, White
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Usually silent; low grunts and whistling calls.
Call Pattern
Flat, Simple
Call Type
Croak/Quack

Habitat

Marshes, ponds. In United States mainly found on ponds and impoundments with extensive marsh growth and some open water. In tropics also found on mangrove lagoons, swamps, rice plantations.

Behavior

Eggs

4-10. Smaller and smoother than those of Ruddy Duck, whitish to pale buff. Females sometimes lay eggs in each others' nests. Incubation is by female, about 4 weeks. Young: Not well known. Probably leave nest shortly after hatching, are tended by female but feed themselves, as in other stifftails. Age at first flight not known.

Young

Not well known. Probably leave nest shortly after hatching, are tended by female but feed themselves, as in other stifftails. Age at first flight not known.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by diving and swimming underwater, propelled by feet.

Diet

Probably mostly plant material. Diet not well known. Apparently eats mostly plant material, including seeds and roots of smartweeds, sedges, grasses, and various other aquatic and waterside plants. Also eats some aquatic insects and crustaceans.

Nesting

Breeding behavior not well known. The few known Texas nestings have been in fall. Displays of male apparently include raising tail and lowering bill onto chest while making soft calls, also making short rushes across surface of water. Nest site is among marsh vegetation in shallow water. Nest (built by female) is a woven bowl of reeds and grasses, perhaps with sparse lining of down.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Despite wide range in American tropics, seems not to be very common anywhere. Secretive behavior and nomadic movements make it difficult to estimate total population or to provide protection for species.