Even though it’s called a duck, the black-bellied whistling-duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) is built more like a goose, with its tall stature enhanced by a particularly long neck and pair of legs. Both males and females are strikingly patterned. Their bodies are rusty chestnut overall, accented with black on the belly, flanks, and rump. Their faces are a dirty light gray color, but not so light as to prevent the white eye ring from standing out. When folded, the edge of the wing is marked by a white line. The bill is a bright coral color, while the legs are more pinkish.
In flight, notice the broad white patch on the wings, making a sharp contrast with the black flight feathers. Also note that the black-bellied whistling-duck’s legs are so long that the feet dangle out past the end of the tail.
The immature black-bellied whistling-duck is duller and paler than its parents. Its belly and flanks are black mottled, rather than solid black. Its bill and legs are gray.
Best Field Marks
- Long neck and legs.
- Black belly.
- Coral bill.
- Pink legs.
- White wing patch.
The black-bellied whistling-duck gets its name from a high-pitched whistling call it makes when in flight. The first note is the longest. The entire call can be described as something along the lines of wha-chew-whee-whew.
Distribution & Occurrence
Adding a black-bellied whistling-duck to your life list is quite an achievement if you live in Kansas. Normally, this species is a bird of the South, preferring a tropical climate. Still, a vagrant or two wanders into the state almost every year, sometimes appearing as far north as Olathe. If you are destined to be one of the lucky birders who spot a black-bellied whistling-duck in Kansas, expect to find it in a shallow pond or marsh in a quiet, wooded location.
Black-bellied whistling-ducks can make their appearance any time from May to September. Scientists believe that bad weather may be what drives them this far north.
The black-bellied whistling-duck does not act anything like most ducks. It is right at home in trees, easily walking along branches. If disturbed, it may not even try to fly off—it may simply weave its way into the woods out of sight.
This unusual duck is mostly nocturnal, spending the night feeding and the day resting in a tree, on a pole, or on the ground near a pond. Its diet consists of plants, ranging from grains to pond weeds.
Black-bellied whistling-ducks are attracted to corn. If you throw whole corn kernels out on the ground by ponds for other water birds, you may be fortunate enough to have a visit from a whistling-duck one day!
Given the strange shape and behavior of the black-bellied whistling-duck, the only species likely to cause confusion is the related fulvous whistling-duck. However, the two can easily be told apart by getting a look at the bill or legs of the duck in question. The black-bellied whistling-duck has striking coral and pink appendages, while those of the fulvous whistling-duck are dark blue-gray. The fulvous whistling-duck is also paler overall, particularly noticeable on its tawny (not black) belly.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.