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Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

These non-migratory water birds are found in the United States and are easy to spot with their striking plumage.

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-hour 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.


The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is mostly reddish-brown, with a black belly, a gray face, a white eye ring, and a reddish orange bill. The leading edge of the wing is similar to the chestnut color of the body. The secondary coverts are white. Black primaries have a white base. Long wing stripe visible in flight.  Length: 21 in.  Wingspan: 30 in.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Gray belly, paler body, dark legs and dark grey bill.


Marshes and ponds.


Seeds and grains.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Photograph © Alan Wilson


Forages mostly on land, but sometimes dabbles.


Occurs in the southernmost U.S., and south to South America. Population increasing.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Black-bellied Whistling Duck.

Fun Facts

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have expanded their range northward in recent years, but these northern breeders often move south for the winter, while most others are resident year-round.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks typically pair for life.


A four-note whistle.


Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks will use nest boxes.


Similar Species

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks lack black bellies and have extensive black on their wings and back.

Immature Fulvous Whistling-Duck could be confused with an immature Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. Fulvous has a white stripe on the side and dark wings without a wing stripe.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Fulvous Whistling-Duck



The nest is in a tree cavity or nest box.

Number: 12-16.
Color: Whitish.

Incubation and fledging:

– Young hatch at 25-30 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) 1-2 days after hatching days but remain with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


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.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Myrna Kurle

Friday 5th of May 2023

Spotted today on pond in Broken Arrow Oklahoma. 5/5/2023

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