- 18.5–20.1 in
- 23–36 oz
- About the size of a Cattle Egret; slightly larger than a Fulvous Whistling-Duck.
- Black-bellied Tree Duck
- Siffleur à bec rouge, Siffleur à narines jaunes, Dendrocygne àventre noir (French)
- Pichichí, Pijiji, Pichichil, Pichihuili, Yaguasa, Pato chiflador, Pato maizal, Pixixi (Spanish)
- The whistling-ducks were formerly known as tree-ducks, but only a few, such as the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck actually perch or nest in trees. They look most like ducks, but their lack of sexual dimorphism, relatively long-term pair bonds, and lack of complex pair-forming behavior more resembles geese and swans.
- The oldest recorded Black-bellied Whistling Duck was a male, and at least 10 years, 7 months when it was found in Louisiana.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks nest in thickets or stands of mesquite, hackberry, willow, live oak, and other trees. They forage in fields, lawns, and shallow, freshwater ponds that often contain water hyacinth, water lilies, and cattails. In the tropics, they also use mangroves, rivers, and lagoons.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks eat mainly plants, including smartweed, grasses, swamp timothy, amaranth, sedges, bindweed, and nightshade. They also eat many agricultural crops including sorghum, millet, corn, rice, and wheat. They eat a smaller amount of aquatic animals such as snails, insects, and spiders. They typically forage at night, leaving roosts at sunset to fly to foraging areas. They feed in fields or by dabbling in shallow ponds.
- Clutch Size
- 9–18 eggs
- Number of Broods
- 1-2 broods
- Egg Length
- 1.8–2.4 in
- Egg Width
- 1.2–1.7 in
- Incubation Period
- 25–30 days
- Nestling Period
- 10–13 days
- Egg Description
- Condition at Hatching
- Almost independent at hatching. Covered with black-and-yellow down, eyes open.
Whether nesting in natural cavities or nest boxes, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks typically don’t build a nest; they lay their eggs directly on whatever debris has collected there. Cavity openings range from 5–12 inches across. When nesting on the ground, they make a scrape or a shallow bowl of grasses, with thick vegetation overhead, such as willow, mesquite, or cactus.
Usually nests in tree hollows where a limb has broken or the trunk has rotted away. They also use nest boxes and sometimes nest on the ground. Both sexes help select the nest site.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have long legs and spend more time than other ducks walking on land or perching in trees. You may see them perched on fences, telephone lines, or in Spanish moss. They are gregarious year-round, forming flocks of up to 1,000 birds. They form lifelong pair bonds and breed in their first year of life. Males spar by chasing or nipping at each other, or with a threat display that involves stretching their neck forward and opening their bill. Pairs form in winter; courtship includes birds stretching their necks out horizontally, dipping their bill, and flicking water over the back. Females often lay eggs in the nests of other whistling-ducks—a behavior known as egg-dumping. Individuals are attracted to areas where corn and rice are grown and can cause damage to crops. Nest predators include raccoons, rat snakes, and bull snakes; ducklings may be killed by fire ants, bass, catfish, and gar. Great Horned Owls sometimes take adults.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have been expanding their range in the southern U.S., and the North American Breeding Bird Survey shows strong population growth, estimated at over 6% per year from 1966–2014. They are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Although it’s legal to hunt whistling-ducks in season, they are only rarely targeted by hunters. Like all aquatic species, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are vulnerable to poor water quality—in the 1980s birds in Mexico were reported with high levels of DDT, dieldrin, and other persistent organic compounds. Degradation or clearing of wetlands for can reduce habitat availability; however, in general Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks seem to be doing well around human development.
- James, J.D., and J.E. Thompson. 2001. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis). In The Birds of North America Online, No. 578 (A. Poole, Ed.). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
- Bolen, E.G. 1967. Nesting boxes for Black-bellied Tree Ducks. Journal of Wildlife Management. 31:68–73.
- Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook. Simon & Schuster Inc., New York.
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity records of North American Birds.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2014. North American Breeding Bird Survey 1966–2014 Analysis.
Resident to short-distance migrant. U.S. populations are at the extreme north of this species’ range, and many of these birds migrate south a few hundred miles into Mexico for the winter. Across their extensive range in Central and South America, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks do not migrate.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks take readily to nest boxes. If you live within their range, you can make a nest box out of half-inch marine plywood. It should be about 24 inches high at the front and 20 inches at the back, with a hole about 5–6 inches in diameter (see Bolen 1967 in the Credits section of this account for full instructions).
Find This Bird
If you’re in the range of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (and that range is expanding all the time—keep an eye on the species’ eBird map to see where they’ve been seen) you should be on the lookout for them perching around shallow ponds; walking in the short grass of lawns and golf courses; and especially in agricultural fields, where these large ducks eat lots of grain. They feed nocturnally, so watch around sunset for large flocks to begin flying out to fields from their roosts.