American Black Duck

Anas rubripes

by Tek Von Essen

The American Black Duck is on the Watch List of the National Audubon Society. The Watch List is an early warning system that focuses attention on at-risk bird species before they become endangered. Watch List species are those faced with population decline, limited geographic range, and/or threats such as habitat loss on their breeding and wintering grounds.

The population of the American Black Duck is declining rapidly due to a number of factors. There is no absolute evidence to determine the precise cause of the decline, however, competition and hybridization with the mallard, as well as hunting, all present a formidable hypothesis.

The American Black Duck is classified as a part of the Class Birds. It is grouped in the Order Anseriformes (waterfowl), and is a member of the Family Anatidae (waterfowl family). These birds are commonly referred to as simply black ducks. The American Black Duck inhabits primarily the eastern seaboard of the North American continent. While its coastal extent ranges from the northern Canadian province of Quebec to the southern American state of Florida, the American Black Duck may be found inland as far as Texas in the south, and Saskatchewan in the north. American Black Ducks prefer coastal marshes and bays, particularly if they neighbor agricultural lands. They inhabit marshy inland lakeshores, bogs, conifer uplands, wet hardwood forests, and islands surrounded by large quantities of water. American black ducks prefer to live in largely wooded environments. They den in tree cavities, deserted bird nests, or on the ground close to water. They may however dwell as distant as one-half mile from the water’s edge.

The American Black Duck is extremely similar to the common Mallard in shape and size. The male’s wings may grow up to 293 millimeters in length, while the tail may extend to almost 105 millimeters. The wings mirror a purplish-blue color between two black lines. Each wing is slightly edged with white due to the white color of the under-wing. The male black duck has a dark black crown. The feathers of the crown have very buff borders. A dark line runs through the eyes of the duck, while the rest of the head and neck is dull to light brown. The entire head and neck, however, is streaked with black. The general body of the duck is a blackish-brown color, with pale brown borders to the feathers. This produces a lace-like appearance. The bill of the duck is often yellow or green. Its legs are dark red.

Female American Black Ducks have olive green bills and blackish-orange or greenish-yellow legs. They have a grayer and less finely streaked head and neck. The females have a more striped appearance than the lace-like resemblance of the males. Their wings may grow to be 275 millimeters in length.

Written fall 2000, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University. Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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