Kingdoms / Animalia / Craniata / Aves / Anseriformes / Anatidae / Heteronetta / Species
< >  Heteronetta atricapilla - Black-headed duck (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Synonyms & Alternative Names

Kuckucksente (German)
Schwarzkopfente (German)
Hétéronetta à tête noire (French)
Canard à tête noire (French)
Pato rinconero (Spanish)
Pato sapo (Spanish)

Names for newly-hatched


Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1, B3, B6, B8, B19, B25.

Aviculture references:
B29, B30, B40, B94
D1, D8

Other References

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General information:
  • Stiff-tails are generally hardy. They are extremely aquatic and do best on large ponds of variable depth, with clean, deep water and plenty of natural food available in the form of marginal aquatic plants, while a muddy pond bottom will provide food items such as tubifex worms. Duckweed and small-sized seeds such as millet and canary seed mixtures are preferred to conventional waterfowl feeds, although wheat and pellets will be taken if natural food is scarce, for example in hard winter weather. Ample marginal vegetation (e.g. rushes, sedge, juncus reed) should be available for general cover and for nesting, with nesting rafts also provided.
  • Most species are sociable and do best in groups rather than as a single pair; males will fight, but usually for only a short period, some degree of pursuit and rape of ducks is also likely. They can be very aggressive in nest site defence, therefore in mixed collections they should be kept on a water area sufficiently large for other ducks to escape.
  • Stiff-tail ducklings should preferably be reared with access to water from e.g. two days old, with sufficient depth for diving provided even at an early age, although enforced drying off periods between short swims may be advisable initially. Duckweed is a useful starter food for these species, although attached daphnia and water snails may carry parasites.

(J23.13.w8, B29, B30, B40, B94).

Species-specific information:

  • Rarely bred in captivity. Lay eggs in nests of other species (totally parasitic), mainly April to June.

(B29, D1).

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average closed ring size:K 10.0mm (D8).

Management Techniques

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 14-15 inches 35-38cm (B3); 35-40cm (B1).
Adult weight General 513-565 (B1).
Male 434-680g average 513g (B3); mean 1.1 lbs. (B8).
Female 470-720g average 565g (B3); mean 1.2 lbs. (B8).
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Blue-grey with black dorsal stripe, nostrils and tip; rose-red base in summer (B3, B8, B25).
Variations (If present) Female:- grey with black dorsal stripe; base may be yellow to pink. (B3, B8, B25)
Eyes (Iris) Male Brown (B3, B8, B25).
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Grey with black dorsal stripe (B25).
Eyes (Iris) Brown (B25).

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Adult Male Greyish (B3, B6, B8, B25).
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Greyish (B6, B25).

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Adult Male Head and upper neck black sometimes throat whitish; upperparts including tail, uppertail coverts and rump dark brown. Lower neck and underparts warm brown, black speckled, with centre of abdomen whitish. Wings brown with rufous freckling on coverts, greater coverts and secondaries white tipped. (B3, B6, B8, B25)
Variations (If present) Female:- head and neck dark brown crown and hindneck; sides of face and throat buff-white, with darker speckles and dark stripe below eye. Upperparts dark brown. Lower neck and underparts buff-brown, black speckled; centre of abdomen whitish. Wing as male but without rufous on coverts. (B3, B6, B8, B25).
Juvenile Similar to female (B6, B25).

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts and crown brown/blackish, with large yellow spots, speckled with brown, on flanks and wings, and stripe on back, also yellow tips to dark down; underparts, sides of head and throat tawny yellow, brownish on breast, eyestripe dark, with line up from eye to crown.
: Dark grey
Feet: Grey
(B6, B8)

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Egg-laying September to December (B1, B8, B25).
No. of Clutches --

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Nest placement and structure

NONE. Totally parasitic on other species (B1, B8, B25).

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average --
Range 5-16 in a 'clutch', over several parasitised nests (B8)
Egg Description White; size 59x44mm, weight 60g (B3).

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20-30 days (B8); about 21 days (B1).

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Before or together with eggs of host nest (B8).

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70 days (B8).

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Sexual Maturity


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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Filter water on mud near shoreline, dabble, head-dip, upend in shallows, dive (B1, B3, B8, B25).
Newly-hatched Surface-feeders, strain duckweed for crustaceans (B8).

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building None (totally parasitic on other species) (B1, B3, B8, B25).
Incubation None (totally parasitic on other species) (B1, B3, B8, B25).
Newly-hatched None; ducklings are completely independent after hatching (B1, B3, B8, B25).


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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Not territorial. May be found in groups of 10-15 birds (B3, B8).
Inter-specific Readily mix with dabbling ducks and other species of waterfowl (B8, B25).

Species parasitised include Fulica spp. -coots, Netta peposaca - Rosy-billed pochard, and various other species (including Dendrocygna bicolor - Fulvous whistling-duck, white-faced ibis, Chauna torquata - Southern screamer, Limpkins, brown-hooded gulls, swans, rails, herons, egrets, snail kites, Chimango caracaras (B1, B6, B8, B25).

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Sexual Behaviour

Pair bonds usually weak, forced extra-pair copulations not uncommon (B8).

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Predation in Wild


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Activity Patterns

Shy and secretive, hide in vegetation if disturbed. Loaf in shallow waters (B8, B25).
Circadian --

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Natural Diet


Seeds and vegetative parts aquatic plants particularly bulrush seeds, also invertebrates (B1, B3, B8).

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)


Lowlands of south-central South America: eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and south-eastern Brazil to central Chile and south to Buenos Aires province of Argentina.

Movements:- higher latitude (southernmost) populations move north (to lower latitudes) in winter, reaching south-eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, south-eastern Brazil.

(B1, B8, B19, B25)

Occasional and Accidental




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Open or thinly forested country, permanent fresh water swamps, reedbeds, lakes, pools and marshes with abundant emergent vegetation (B1, B8, B19, B25).

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Not globally threatened, locally abundant (B1, B8).

CITES listing --
Red-data book listing --
Threats Loss of habitats, hunting pressure (B1)

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Captive Populations

Not common; more in European than American collections (B8).

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