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< > Dendrocygna autumnalis - Black-bellied whistling-duck (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Red-billed whistling duck
Black-bellied tree duck
Red-billed tree duck
Gray-breasted tree duck
Herbstpfeifgans (German)
Rotschnabel-Pfeifgans (German)
Dendrocygne Ó bec rouge (French)
Pato silbador pico rojo (Spanish)
SuirirÝ Piquirrojo (Spanish)
Pichichi comun (Spanish)
Maisero (Mexican)
Dendrocygna autumnalis autumnalis Northern black-bellied whistling duck
Dendrocygna autumnalis discolor Southern black-bellied whistling duck

Names for newly-hatched

Duckling, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases


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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1, B3, B4, B8, B19, B25, B26.

Aviculture references:
B7, B29, B30, B31, B96, B97
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:
  • Whistling-ducks generally do well, either in pens or in a park with access to extensive water area and good natural cover. They are gregarious outside the breeding season, and groups may bully smaller duck species, so should be kept in large areas, in which other birds have room to escape. Most need shelter in severe weather and a well-sheltered pen with frost-free night quarters for winter is suggested, or plenty of ground cover and/or straw to stand on, as they are susceptible to frostbite. They may be kept fully-flighted in aviaries, and have also been kept full-winged in open pens, tending not to wander. Perches should be provided at an appropriate height for pinioned or wing-clipped birds. Commercial pellets and grain are suitable for feeding.
  • Elevated nest boxes are appreciated by most species, although pinioned birds will use ground-level boxes; boxes may be placed over water or land. Eggs may be incubated by bantams and ducklings may be bantam-reared. Many species have been sucessfully parent-reared in captivity. Pairs kept isolated and fully flighted in a covered pen, with high-hung nest boxes "seldom fail to rear broods" (B7). Whistling-duck species may hybridise with one another and therefore should be kept in seperate enclosures, and hybridisation has also occasionally been reported with Netta peposaca - Rosy-billed pochard.

(J23.13.w10, B7, B29, B97).

Species-specific information:

  • Black-bellied whistling-ducks are relatively common in collections, easy to keep and attractive in mixed collections. Plentiful water, area for seclusion and opportunities for perching should be provided. They may be housed on ponds with other ducks - they are generally peacable and may be kept with small and delicate species, although they may squabble and chase each other, therefore should be provided with ample space. These ducks are quite sensitive to cold - more than are e.g. Dendrocygna arborea - West Indian whistling-duck or Dendrocygna bicolor - Fulvous whistling-duck. Shelter should be provided for cold spring and autumn weather, with frost-free winter accommodation. May be fed wheat, standard pellets, together with greenfood such as lettuce, duckweed, grass, and bread.
  • These ducks are easily bred, and nest in dense cover near water, or may also use a hollow tree or a ground-level or raised nest box. The southern sub-species usually starts laying in April (northern hemisphere), but possibly late March, while the northern subspecies usually lay from mid-May onwards (B31); usually lay April to June (B29). Best results may be obtained if they are parent incubated and reared, although incubators or broodies may also be used. Downies require more warmth than most species, and should be given dry, drought-free accomodation. They should be offered food in a trough of water, to be sieved: fine floating vegetable matter, shrimp meal and duckweed are suggested, also fine-chopped hard-boiled egg in addition to duck-rearing meal. Newly hatched ducklings not being parent reared may easily drown if given free access to water in the first few days.
  • N.B. Communal nesting is not uncommon, with 25-50 eggs frequently found in one nest; these may be incubated naturally, but for increased hatching success some of the eggs should be removed and placed under bantams.
  • This species may hybridise with Dendrocygna viduata - White-faced whistling-duck, Dendrocygna arborea - West Indian whistling-duck, Dendrocygna bicolor - Fulvous whistling-duck, Dendrocygna eytoni - Plumed whistling-duck; the two subspecies should be kept separately to avoid sub-specific hybridisation.

(J23.13.w10, B29, B30, B31, B96, B97, D1)

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average closed ring size: M 12.0mm (D8).

Management Techniques

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 19-21inches, 48-53cm (B3); 43-53cm (B1).
Adult weight General 650-1020g (B1); 1.6-2.2 (mean 1.8)lb) (B8).
Male 680-907g average 816g (B3)
Female 650-1020g average 839g (B3)
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Bright red with grey nail. Yellowish behind the nostrils.
Variations (If present) --
Eyes (Iris) Male Dark brown.
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Dusky.
Eyes (Iris) Dark brown.

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Adult Male Pink.
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Dusky.

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Adult Male Head and neck: face, head, upper neck pale grey, crown and stripe down nape mid brown, becoming chestnut brown on lower neck and breast. Narrow whitish eye ring.

Lower breast, abdomen, flanks, tail coverts, tail and rump black, with white mottling on ventral area.

Upperparts chestnut-brown, tertials darker brown.

Wing dark brown with extensive white patch consisting of the outer upperwing coverts and the bases of the primaries and secondaries.

Variations (If present) Dendrocygna autumnalis discolor Southern black-bellied whistling duck, lower neck and breast greyish.
Juvenile Duller and paler; belly grey-white with barring.

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Boldly patterned. Upperparts black with large yellow spots. Underparts yellow. Head stripy, often black spot on foreneck.
Bill: Grey.
Feet: Grey.

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Varies depending on geographical location. Begins in April in the USA.
No. of Clutches May double-brood in some areas.

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Nest placement and structure

In a tree cavity or occasionally on the ground; sometimes uses grasses to make shallow bowl.

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average --
Range 12-16 (B1, B8). Can be as many as 65 eggs in dump-nests.
Egg Description Buff-white. Size: 50 x 39mm, weight: 44g. (B3)

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26-31 days (B1, B8), average 27 days (B8).

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53-63 days (B1); 53-56 days (B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males One year old.
Females One year old.

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Feed by grazing, also wading and dabbling, sometimes upending.
Newly-hatched --

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building Nest in loose groups.
Incubation Both parents incubate.
Newly-hatched Both parents look after the ducklings.


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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Nest in loose groups. Form compact flocks and sometimes large flocks of thousands of birds.
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

Strong, probably permanent pair bonds.

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Predation in Wild


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Activity Patterns

Roost in the day in waterside trees in compact flocks.
Circadian Nocturnal.

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Natural Diet


Basically vegetarian: grass, seeds and grain (corn and sprouting rice), also roots and tubers of aquatic plants. Occasionally insects and molluscs.

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal Dendrocygna autumnalis autumnalis: Southeast Texas to central Panama.

Dendrocygna autumnalis discolor: East Panama southward through South America to Ecuador in the west, north Argentina in the east.

Most populations are mainly sedentary with only local movements, but northernmost birds migrate south for the winter.

Occasional and Accidental

Vagrants regularly reach the West Indies.



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Tropical lagoons, marshes and streams with partially tree-covered margins; often near agricultural land. Use brackish water as well as fresh water. Lowlands and up to 2,600m.

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Not globally threatened – common and widespread.

CITES listing CITES III in Honduras
Red-data book listing --
Threats Persecuted where damages crops.

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Captive Populations

Northern form D. autumnalis autumnalis common in collections but southern subspecies D. autumnalis discolor much less common.

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