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Whistling Ducks – Birdzilla Center for Bird Identification

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Whistling-Ducks are large ducks typically found along the Gulf Coast. They have long legs and a long neck, similar to geese. They were previously known as Tree-Ducks.  Two species are found in the United States:  Fulvous Whistling Duck and Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Ranges of the two species may be expanding and there seem to be a growing number of reports along the eastern coast. The range of the Black-bellied is extending inland in Texas, and as far north as southern Oklahoma.

The two species are easy to identify.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck  —  Length: 20 inches,   Wingspan: 26 inches 

With a distribution extending to several continents, the Fulvous Whistling-Duck is nonetheless limited to a few of the southernmost portions of the U.S. Some of these populations are migratory, with movements taking place at night. Fulvous Whistling-Duck pairs are thought to mate for life.

Much remains to be learned about the breeding ecology of the Fulvous Whistling-Duck. While the breeding season is long and it is expected that failed nests are replaced, this needs confirmation. While year-old birds are capable of breeding, it is likewise not known how frequently they actually do breed.

Distinctive species with long neck. Not easily confused with other species.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Gray legs. Dark wings. Reddish belly, pale ring on the neck.  Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Dark wings with rusty “shoulder.”  Dark mark on back of the head/neck.  Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


Black-bellied Whistling Duck  —  Length: 21 inches,  Wing span: 30 inches

Broadly distributed in South and Central America, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck’s range reaches into the southern U.S. Typically mating for life, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks nonetheless occasionally change mates, and will re-mate after the death of one of the pair.

Male and female Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks share incubation duties, and typically trade 24-hout shifts. Multiple females often lay eggs in the same nest, leading to very large clutch sizes in some cases. Such nests are less likely to hatch.

Both whistling duck species will graze contently in fields or dip over in shallow ponds to feed.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Reddish bill, gray face and reddish chest and upper parts. Photograph © Tom Grey.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Wings paler than body. Dark crown and back of neck. Photograph © Sam Crowe

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Lower belly black, rusty chest.  White eye ring.  Photograph © Sam Crowe

Black-bellied Whistling Duck in a tree

The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was previously known as the Black-bellied Tree-Duck, for its habit of loafing in trees. Photograph © Tom Grey.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck in flight

Large band of white visible on the top of the wing in flight. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Long wings are dark underneath. Photograph © Greg Lavaty

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Often seen in groups. Pink legs match the color of the bill. Photograph © Greg Lavaty

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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