Although it’s called a duck, the fulvous whistling-duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) is remarkably gooselike, with its large body and long, gangling legs and neck. On the other hand, it is far more striking in appearance than many geese. Most of its body is a tawny cinnamon color (fulvous), contrasting with a black stripe running down the back of the neck and a whitish stripe following the contour of the wing across the side. The back is mostly black with tawny stripes. The rump is white. The bill, legs, and feet are gray-blue.
In flight, the first thing you will notice is the whistling-duck’s unusual build. The feet of this duck trail along behind the tail in flight, and the neck usually droops slightly. The fulvous whistling-duck flies directly with slow, powerful wing strokes—nothing like most ducks. Also note the black undersides of the wings and the white rump, best seen in flight.
Young fulvous whistling-ducks are basically just duller versions of their parents.
Best Field Marks
- Gooselike silhouette.
- Tawny head, neck, and underparts.
- White rump, best seen in flight.
The fulvous whistling-duck takes its name from a high-pitch squealing whistle given in flight. This sound is alternately described as pee-chee or kit-tee, with the accent on the second syllable.
Distribution & Occurrence
This duck is a casual visitor to Kansas, typically found in unusually warm weather. Cheyenne Bottoms appears to be its favorite place to stop, and it may be found there anytime from early May to early November. However, in April and again from August to November, migrants are sometimes spotted at a handful of wet, open locations across the state, such as lakes, marshes, and flooded fields.
The fulvous whistling-duck normally breeds on the Gulf Coast and does not appear to have met with much success nesting in Kansas. It is believed to make the attempt at Cheyenne Bottoms from time to time, however.
One thing that stands out about the fulvous whistling-duck other than its odd appearance is its equally odd behavior. A social, confiding bird that dives and swims well, it can run on land with equal ease. Unlike its cousin, the black-bellied whistling-duck, the fulvous whistling-duck does not typically spend much time in trees. It prefers to rest during the day in dense growth.
During the night, the fulvous whistling-duck comes out to feed. It frequently scavenges fields for waste grain, weed seeds, and blades of grass, but it also eats aquatic plants. When feeding in water, it usually either tips up or makes a shallow dive.
Attracting a fulvous whistling-duck is not likely to be an option in a landlocked state. Your best bet is to wait for warm, wet weather and then travel to a likely location such as Cheyenne Bottoms.
The only thing you are likely to confuse with a whistling-duck is another whistling-duck. Fortunately, the two species are easily distinguished. The belly color is a giveaway. As you would expect, black-bellied whistling-ducks have striking black bellies, while fulvous whistling-ducks have fulvous (tawny) bellies. The former also have coral-red bills and legs, while the latter have grayish appendages. Another clue readily seen in flight is the wing color. The black-bellied whistling-duck sports a flashy white patch on the wing that its relative lacks.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.