Mission Statement

There are 969 species of birds listed in taxonomical order on the ABA Checklist, v. 7.2.
My goal is to write a blog post about each species starting at the top and working my way down.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Black-bellied Whistling-duck

There are 969 species of birds listed on the ABA Checklist version 7.2, and the species are organized taxonomically. That means that all of the birds are listed in the order that they are most closely related, although that order sometimes changes. The checklist used to begin with loons and grebes, but those in the know have learned that the loons, grebes and all the birds in the list up to flamingos somehow belong between quail and osprey. So who am I to argue? Now the checklist begins with Whistling-ducks, Geese, Swans, and Ducks; so, that’s where I’ll begin.

 If you get lost in the description of the plumage, you can locate
the appropriate part on the diagram of the female mallard above.

The first species on the ABA list is the Black-bellied Whistling-duck (BBWD), Dendrocygna autumnalis. It’s one of the 700+ species I haven't seen yet, so I’ve spent a good chunk of the last 36 hours looking at pictures of and reading about them. I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re right up there near the top of my "must see" list.
Credit: Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com
The adult Black-bellied Whistling-duck is about 19" long and weighs an average of1.8 lbs.. It has a gray face and throat with brown eyes and a white eye-ring. Its bill is the color of smoked salmon with a yellow patch above and behind the nostrils. It makes me think of bagels with lox and cream cheese. The hooked tip of the upper mandible, referred to as the ‘nail,’ is blue gray. I love their smiles. They look happily amused with a mischievous twinkle in their eyes as if they just heard a good joke.

There's a rich, chestnut brown racing stripe that begins on its forehead then runs over its crown and down its nape. Its long neck, breast, mantle, back and scapulars are all lighter shades of that same chestnut brown as the racing stripe.

As its name clearly states, the Black-bellied Whistling-duck has a black belly. It also has black flanks, a black rump, a black tail and black upper-tail coverts. Its under-tail coverts are mottled black and white. The white secondary coverts and white bases of the black primaries and secondaries create a long white wing patch in flight and a visible pale patch when its wings are folded. Its wing linings are black, and the leading edge of its wing is chestnut like its body. It has long and fairly thick pink legs with webbed feet. Males and females have the same plumage. They only molt once a year during breeding, and are unable to fly for 30 -40 days. The immature birds have a similar plumage, but they are duller than the adults, and their bills, legs, and feet are gray. They get their adult plumage at 8 months old.

Credit: Alan D. Wilson, www.naturespicsonline.com
Black-bellied Whistling-ducks whistle. They make a noise that sounds a bit like my Boston Terriers' squeaky toys. And you know what else they can do? They can perch. They perch and roost on low branches and snags around mud flats, swampy forests, wooded marches, and shallow ponds along the coast of Texas, Mexico, Central America, and in South America. There is a resident population in Florida, and there have been occasional vagrants reported across the southern US, as far north as Minnesota, and as far east as Pennsylvania. They aren’t long-distance migrants. The northernmost population will move south during winter, but many populations stay in one place all year round. When they fly, their necks, tails and legs droop slightly below their bodies, and their feet trail out behind their tails.

Black-bellied Whistling-ducks are nocturnal. They feed mainly at night and sleep or rest during the day. I don’t know about you, but somehow I find the thought of nocturnal whistling-ducks funny. (Whistling in the dark anyone?) They’re primarily vegetarians and forage for grains, seeds, shoots and leaves on the ground or by dabbling in shallow water. (How 'bout dabbling in the dark?) They eat some mollusks and insects, but those make up less than 10% of their diet.

Have I mentioned their chicks yet? Oh my goodness, they're, well... just as cute as cute gets; and I don't use the word "cute" lightly. They are all fluffy down with gray bill, legs, and feet. But their down is a fantastic study of black and pale lemon yellow.  It looks like they're wearing little black and yellow striped football helmets and wearing some sort of black harness with multiple straps. In the pictures I saw, it looks like they were born knowing the same joke their parents are smiling at.

I want to put a picture of  a Black-bellied Whistling-duckling 
and one of a juvenile in here, but I'm waiting for permission to use them. 
In the meantime, if you have a picture I could use, holler.

Adult Black-bellied Whistling-ducks are monogamous. They prefer to nest in the cavities of oaks, willows and mesquite trees. The female lays 12 to 16 eggs at the rate of one per day. The male and female share incubation and chick care. Their happy little football players hatch out sometime between 12 and 16 days, and are ready to go play outside within 48 hours. The ducklings are able to fly by the age of two months, but they often stay in family groups for up to 6 months. They are ready to have their own little downy football teams by the time they reach 8 months. 

So there. That's what I learned about Black-bellied Whistling-ducks. It's a little more than a paragraph. I hope you don't mind. In fact I hope you'll come back for more. There are a total of eight species of whistling-ducks in the world, but only two of them live in North America. My next post will be about the Fulvous Whistling-duck, then we'll be ready to move on to geese.

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