American Black Duck
American Black Duck
by Andy Rzeznikiewicz
What it looks like: Black Ducks are a large-bodied dabbling duck about the size of a mallard. They have a yellowish bill with a gray head and dark body. When in flight they appear to be black in color, which helps distinguish them when mixed with Mallards. When flying, the undersides of the wings are bright white. The speculum or secondaries are iridescent purple without white borders. Often people are confused by hybrid Mallard x Black Duck crosses.
Where to find it: Black Ducks are found in Connecticut year-round. In winter, they congregate mainly in saltwater ponds and marshes, or in small rivers with pockets of open water. During migration they can be found in flooded agricultural fields and smaller wetland areas. They breed mainly in freshwater wetlands such as shallow ponds, marshes, and beaver ponds. Some nesting occurs in saltwater marshes as well.
How to find it: Right now the main place to find Black Ducks is in brackish waters along the coast. The marshes around Milford Point are usually a good location but this year are frozen solid. The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge’s Great Meadows Marsh in Stratford has open water where some Black Ducks are wintering.
Most inland areas where Black Ducks might be found are still frozen tight. Some have been observed recently at the Quinebaug Hatchery Ponds in Plainfield. A few pockets of open water on the Quinebaug River in Putnam have a Black Ducks mixed in with the large flock of Mallards. Check any stream or river in the state that has small pockets of open water.
What if the bird isn’t there: At the fish hatchery, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, Bald Eagle, and Great Blue Heron have been observed recently. American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Red-Breasted Merganser are regularly observed at the McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservation Status: Although they are relatively common still, Black Ducks have declined in number dramatically since the mid 1900’s, largely because of habitat loss and hybridization.
Black Ducks are more sensitive to human disturbance than Mallards. Large areas of potential nesting habitat have been encroached on by human activity and the birds shy away from using them.
Black Ducks, which are native to eastern North America, also hybridize commonly with Mallards, which are native to the prairies but which became established in the east after they were introduced for hunting.
According to Min Huang, Ph.D, the migratory game program leader for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Black Duck banding efforts over the past five winters have shown that 45 percent of the Black Ducks caught in Connecticut were hybrids. Throughout all of New York and New England, the number was 19 percent; in the mid-Atlantic states eight percent; in Virginia four percent; and in the Canadian Maritimes, 14 percent. Huang published those findings in an article titled “American Black Ducks, Mallards and Hybrids,” in the January 2015 issue of the Connecticut Warbler, the journal of the Connecticut Ornithological Association (which is edited by one of our Bird Finder contributors, Greg Hanisek).
This week’s Bird Finder was written by Andy Rzeznikiewicz, sanctuary manager for our preserves in Pomfret and Hampton, and edited by Tom Andersen, Connecticut Audubon Society’s communications director.
Black Duck photo by Dick Daniels.