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American Black Duck

Common Name: American Black Duck.

Scientific Name: Anas Rubripes.

What to look for?  Look for a version of a Mallard duck, but much darker coloration overall. The American Black Duck is not actually black, but rather its plumage is a medley of dark brown, beige, and tan. American Black Ducks have very dark chocolate-brown flanks with pale gray-brown heads and olive-yellow bills. Females tend to be slightly paler than males, with duller olive bills. In flight, the American Black Duck's solid purplish-blue speculum (wing patch) and light underwing linings are characteristic. Its reddish-orange legs and feet account for the species name rubripes (Latin for “red foot”).

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? First, a sighting will be rare. However, you can find the American Black Teal around here in the spring foraging around the water’s edge of our ponds and nearby ponds. They tend to prefer the isolated and smaller ponds located around our area.

How big are they? An American Black Duck is similar in size to a Mallard. The American Black Duck averages around 22 inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately three feet. They weigh in at around 3 pounds.

What are their flight patterns? American Black Ducks are slow, heavy fliers.

How else do they behave? It is said that the American Black Duck hides in plain sight in shallow wetlands of eastern North America. American Black Ducks tend to be shier, preferring to nest or forage in quiet, concealed marshes and sheltered forest pools. They are “dabbling ducks” - they feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater plants. They almost never dive. You may find them mixed into flocks with Mallards and other “puddle ducks.”

What’s for dinner? Omnivorous as diet varies with location and season. American Black Ducks eat mostly plant matter, with insects added during the breeding season. Plant foods include seeds, roots, tubers, stems and leaves of plants growing in moist soil and underwater. In the breeding season adults and ducklings diet on aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. In shallow water they forage like typical “dabbling ducks” by submerging their heads or tipping up to reach underwater food.

Where do they take up residence? American Black Ducks prefer to breed in a variety of fresh and brackish wetlands. In winters, they prefer coastal salt marshes and inland wetland habitats.

When and where do they breed and nest? American Black Ducks nest in eastern wetlands (“Atlantic Flyway” area) including freshwater and saltmarshes. Mates are monogamous within each breeding season, and the pairs may stay together in subsequent years. They court and form strong pair bonds in the fall and winter before migrating to breeding grounds. Nesting starts in February in the southern part of their range, but often not until late May in the northern part. The female incubates the eggs while the male defends the territory. The ducklings hatch all within a few hours. The female leads the brood to rearing areas with a lot of invertebrates and plant cover. In early September, the adult and fledgling ducks begin to migrate south.

Where do they migrate? Other than in southern Canada, the American Black Duck may stay in one place all year or move short distances to avoid freezing water. In Illinois, they may be here in the spring as they move north into Wisconsin. They migrate at night in small flocks in the fall when cold fronts arrive.

What is their conservation status? TWhile there is no concern, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations have declined – especially in the central U.S. - over the last several decades. Partners in Flight estimates a breeding population of only 700 thousand in North America.

Do they make any interesting sounds? American Black Duck females give loud quacks, while males have raspy, reedy calls. Here is a link to the sounds of the American Black Duck.

Interesting Facts About the American Black Duck:

  • As soon as their down feathers dry, newly hatched ducklings are able to leave the nest.

  • Hunting restrictions have helped to stabilize their numbers, although habitat loss remains a problem.

  • The oldest recorded American Black Duck was approximately 26 years old.

  • Because American Black Ducks and Mallards frequently hybridize, you may see individuals with intermediate characters, such as a dark body and a partially green head.

  • Pleistocene fossils of American Black Ducks, at least 11,000 years old, have been unearthed in Florida and Georgia.

For more information on the American Black Duck and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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