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.
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.
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.
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.