Bird of the Week: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

When trees begin to bud and temperatures rise, most ducks flee central Texas for cooler climes (as most of us would like to do). Not the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck–but then again, whistling ducks are not like most ducks. In fact, they’re not really ducks at all–at least not in the same way a Scaup or a Blue-winged Teal is a duck. The noted American ornithologist and taxonomist Charles Sibley–who is, amazingly, of no relation to David Allen Sibley–considered the whistling ducks in a separate family from the “true” ducks, though as of this writing they are merely a subfamily, the Dendrocygninaeans. Unlike many of their quacking cousins, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are not migratory, and nest in trees rather than on the ground. They also form strong, monogamous bonds, a behavior much more common among geese and swans than ducks. Whistling-Ducks can also be found far from any obvious source of water: their specific epithet, autumnalis, derives from their habit of flocking to recently-harvested agricultural fields to glean leftover grain and insects. We central Texans are lucky to be able to see Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks year-round, as our area is the northernmost extent of a range that extends through Central America and into the Amazon Basin!

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.