Bio Facts: Whistling Duck, White-faced
White-faced Whistling Duck
Native: Angola, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Barbados, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Martinique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mayotte, Montserrat, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Réunion, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; Regionally extinct: Puerto Rico; Vagrant: Chile, Seychelles, and Spain
Freshwater lakes or reservoirs, with plentiful vegetation
Adult length: 17-19 inches (43-48 cm); adult weight: 17.7-28.9 ounces (502-820 g); appearance & coloration: long grey bill, long head and longish legs. It has a white face and crown, and black rear head. The back and wings are dark brown to black, and the underparts are black, although the flanks have fine white barring. The neck is chestnut. All plumages are similar, except that juveniles have a much less contrasted head pattern.
Unknown in the wild, but up to 20 years in captivity.
In the wild, they eat invertebrates such as aquatic insects, mollusks and crustaceans as well as aquatic plants, seeds and rice; in the Zoo, they are fed scientifically developed, commercially available pelleted waterfowl diet, greens and insects.
IUCN – Least Concern; CITES – Appendix III
The white-faced whistling duck is gregarious, and at favored sites, a flock may number more than a thousand or more. As the name implies, these are noisy birds with a clear three-note whistling call. Active mainly at night, during the day the gregarious white-faced whistling-duck spends most of the time standing alert in flocks around water or in marshy areas. When alarmed, it may freeze and stand tall in a distinctive erect posture while watching intently, or may sharply spring into the air before fleeing. At night, the birds fly to foraging areas to feed by wading, swimming or diving. In response to seasonal fluctuations in food and water availability, the white-faced whistling-duck may undertake short migrations that see it travel as far as 500 kilometers in search of favorable foraging grounds.
Breeding starts at the beginning of the local rainy season, when the white-faced whistling-duck may nest in solitary pairs, small groups, or loose colonies. The nest is a simple depression in the ground amongst long grass or reedbeds that is placed over, or just a short distance from water. In South America, this bird may also nest in open crevices in trees. A clutch of 4 to 13 eggs is laid and then incubated for some 26 to 28 days. Young are diving for food by 14 days, are able to fly by 63 days, and have adult plumage by about 180 days. The parents accompany the young until after they have started flying. They are especially protective of the young in their early development and keep them well hidden. When predators are near, the adults will pretend to have a broken wing to lure predators away from the young. After the breeding season, the adult birds undergo a flightless molt period that lasts for 18 to 25 days. During this time, they are particularly vulnerable to predation and seek cover in densely vegetated wetlands.
Although it has the long neck and long legs of other tree ducks, it does not spend much time perched in trees, as it prefers sand banks. It behaves more like a goose or swan than a typical duck.
The sub-family, Dendrocygninae, contains only one genus, Dendrocygna. There are eight living species, and one known from a previously undescribed subfossil from Aitutaki, Cook Islands. These ducks are so named because of their distinctive whistling calls.
The white-faced whistling duck is noted for its peculiar and discontinuous range spanning the New (South America) and Old (Africa) Worlds. The original stock possibly came from Africa and immigrated across the Atlantic Ocean. One early naturalist erroneously speculated that the ducks were introduced into the New World by slave traders from Africa. Despite their wide separation, the two populations are not racially distinct.
The species is susceptible to avian botulism and avian influenza, so it may be threatened by future outbreaks of these diseases. Utilization: The species is hunted for local consumption and trade in Malawi and is hunted in Botswana. It is also hunted and traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria.
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The White-faced Whistling Duck is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
The duck was part of the Jacksonville Zoo’s animal inventory from 1974 to 1991 and then brought back into our collection in 1995. The Jacksonville Zoo has successfully bred this species.