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Why You Sweet, Black-bellied…

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks — also known as Black-bellied Tree Ducks — are a common sight in our wetlands. I adore these ducks: They have a quirky appearance, they’re docile and sweetly tempered, and are constantly paired. You rarely see one without its companion.

The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is one of only two whistling-duck species native to North America, and is most often referred to as simply the “whistling duck” in our area — and in the South in general. These ducks are considered unusual for North American waterfowl, with their striking appearance, long, dangling legs, and odd feeding habits. The males and females of the species look alike.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Looking over His Wetlands

Mainly non-migratory, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are native to the southernmost United States and South America. They live in freshwater ponds, lakes, and marshes, or cultivated land and reservoirs that are plentiful with vegetation. They usually nest in hollow trees, but will nest on the ground when necessary. As cavity nesters, they make use of chimneys, abandoned buildings, or nest boxes. Nest boxes have been increasingly provided to these ducks over recent decades, thus helping rebuild their numbers.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Flying over the Wetlands

It’s common to see these whistling ducks feeding on vegetation as they wade through the shallow waters, but they’ll also consume arthropods and aquatic invertebrates. In other areas, they feed on recently-harvested fields for leftover seed and invertebrates turned up by farming equipment.

In years past, overhunting of this docile species was a great concern — however, over the past 30 years their populations have increased significantly (nest boxes having helped their cause). They’re sweet and colorful additions to our wetland ecosystem.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Pair in the Wetlands

Fun Fact:

The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is unique among ducks — they’re more like geese and swans, in that they form strong monogamous bonds. Pairs will often remain together for many years. And they’re progressive! Both the male and female share the tasks of raising the young, from incubation to rearing.

38 Comments Post a comment
  1. They truly are beautiful and I’m so glad to hear people are helping now, with nesting boxes etc.

    August 17, 2012
    • Exactly! It broke my heart to hear how they were mercilessly hunted — they’re so incredibly docile and sweet. I’ve seen the boxes in our swamps and wetlands, though…

      August 20, 2012
  2. Their bodies have a lovely mixture of dark colors.

    August 17, 2012
    • I adore their coloring… And in flight, they’re especially striking! Such sweethearts.

      August 20, 2012
  3. One of my favorite birds. I love to hear them whistle when they fly overhead.

    August 17, 2012
    • It’s funny, but I’ve yet to hear the tell-tale whistling… Or if I have heard it, I’ve put it to another critter!

      August 20, 2012
  4. bobca1947@comcast.net #

    AWESOME photos

    August 17, 2012
  5. Val #

    They’re gorgeous!
    Do they know, I wonder, what we humans call them? And I wonder what they call themselves? Pink-legged cuties, maybe? Or just ‘Dotty and Desmond Duck’? 😉

    August 17, 2012
    • Hahahah!! LOVE IT! I call them sweetie-pies whenever I see them… They’re SUCH lovies. But I adore your last names!!! 🙂

      August 20, 2012
  6. Pam #

    Love these ducks! Incredible picture of them in flight!

    August 17, 2012
    • I adore these guys… I was thrilled to nab a group of them in flight! They’re usually in pairs, so this was most likely a family. 🙂

      August 20, 2012
  7. Beautiful images… love how vibrant and sharp they are 🙂

    August 17, 2012
    • Thanks so much! I’m lucky to get so close to these guys — they’re so sweet and docile!

      August 20, 2012
  8. narhvalur #

    Reblogged this on Ann Novek–With the Sky as the Ceiling and the Heart Outdoors.

    August 17, 2012
    • Thanks so much for sharing our sweet and colorful ducks!

      August 20, 2012
  9. Whistling Ducks are new to me, FeyGirl. Pat Bean mentions they whistle as they fly overhead, which I assume is how they get their name. Is the whistle a vocal sound or the sound of their wings?

    August 17, 2012
    • You know, I always listen for that tell-tale “whistle” — but I haven’t heard it! Or if I had, I put it to another critter. It can’t be loud. And I’m not sure if it’s vocal or a result of their wings. I was actually surprised they were in the whistling-duck species…

      August 20, 2012
  10. Cool! I’ve never heard of this one. What funny naked old man legs they have! Seriously, though a beautiful bird, great photos (as usual!) and fun information.

    August 17, 2012
    • Hahahah!!! SO true! They have such long legs… But they’re such sweetie-pies. And so quirky, I love them. 🙂

      August 20, 2012
  11. He is so beautiful ! Wish I could see one in the wild, but these photos are amazing and are the next best thing to live.

    August 17, 2012
    • They’re so very sweet — between their unique coloring and docile temperament, they’re hard not to love!!

      Thanks so much. 🙂

      August 20, 2012
  12. What a beautiful bird… I wish we had them up here. Loved your photos.

    August 17, 2012
    • Thank you! These guys are truly unique — and so very docile. They’re hard not to love!

      August 20, 2012
  13. Lovely photos. I’ve never seen these before.

    August 18, 2012
    • Thanks so much! I adore these guys… So very unusual, colorful, and sweet!

      August 20, 2012
  14. Nice shots… very pretty ducks.

    August 19, 2012
    • Thanks so much! The really are striking… And so very sweet.

      August 20, 2012
  15. How very beautiful!

    August 20, 2012
    • They’re really unique, sweet little things…

      August 20, 2012
  16. Wonderful ducks and photos. They seem so sweet, almost naive (in a nice way, kind).

    August 22, 2012
    • Thanks so much! You nailed it RIGHT on the head; so observant! They’re so docile and sweet, that’s exactly how they seem… I’m just thrilled that they’re now more protected from over-hunting.

      August 23, 2012
  17. They are very pretty. I would love to hear the sound they make. We have a duck here whose wings make a whistling sound when they fly and they are frequent visitors to a long slow riffle on the river near our house.

    August 25, 2012
    • Ahhh…. So it IS their wings that produce that whistling sound, yes? Someone else had that question, and I couldn’t answer it (where the whistling sound comes from)!

      These guys are so sweet — exceptionally docile. They’re hard not to love.

      August 25, 2012
  18. I was born and bred in Florida, so your blog is especially special. Although I do not remember these lovely ducks, I do recall the sparkling white egrets in the ‘Glades. I am following you now.and admiring your dedication to wildlife.

    September 4, 2012
    • How wonderful!! I’m so happy that I can provide snippets of your past experiences in the state. I’m surrounded by much beauty, being near the Everglades.

      Thanks so much for your kind words — I hope that showing a bit of the land’s and the creatures’ beauty to the world helps, even just a tiny bit, in the greater understanding of this most amazing and threatened place.

      September 4, 2012
  19. Karen Burns #

    I have had the honor of observing a pair of these wonderful ducks with their precious seven babies in tow right in my backyard for the last two days. I was so excited to find this article and learn a little about them. Thank you.

    October 19, 2014
    • How wonderful! I think they’re just lovely… And then to get to hear them — perfection! 🙂

      Thanks so very much.

      March 2, 2015

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