Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks:Tree Ducks!

by Dave Hanks

Whenever we have visited southern Texas we have encountered this interesting duck species. This is one of our larger ducks. It gets its name from a whistling call that is a very noisy “waa-chooo”. The bill and feet are orange. The head is gray. The body is gray/brown with a large, black belly. The neck and legs are longer than other ducks. This duck appears “droopy” while in flight and its now visible white-wing bars are distinctive.

Southern, semi-deciduous, moist woodlands with hollow trees is the habitat type needed by this species. The hollow trees are necessary for the bird’s nesting requirements. Fresh water, with plentiful vegetation, is necessary for the bird’s food requirements. It is nocturnal in its feeding habits.

Black-bellied Ducks are highly gregarious and flocks may contain up to a thousand individuals. This species doesn’t mix with other duck species, however.

One winter we rented a cottage in Rockport, Texas. On our early morning drives, we encountered these ducks in wet meadows. They were quite tame and allowed us to approach quite close. My wife found their eyes and necks to be most striking. Their eye is prominent with an obvious ring around it. We also came upon large flocks in the Aransas National Wildlife Preserve along the gulf coast of eastern Texas.

(A pair enjoying the morning in a wet meadow)