Connecticut Audbon Society

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck: Another Connecticut First!

August 14, 2018

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Dendrocygna autumnalis

by Andy Griswold, EcoTravel Director
You may have heard by now that there is a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in Essex!

It’s quite the buzz in the birding community and if accepted by the birding powers as a wild bird, it will be a first state record. This species is well outside its normal range, which is to the south.

If confirmed, it will be the second new species for the state this month, along with the Little Egret in Stonington.

This large, gooselike duck with a long neck, long legs, short tail, chestnut breast, black belly, bright pink legs, gray face with a strong white eye ring, surely looks like it has been put together by committee. It looks like a cartoon bird.

In flight, it has a noticeable hunched-back appearance and a broad white wing stripe. Male and female are similar. Young birds are a dull version of the adult with a mottled black belly. The Black-bellied Whistling Duck is about 18.5 to 20.1 inches long and weighs 23 to 36 ounces.

This species eats mostly plant materials, including grasses and aquatic plants, by dabbling in shallow waters like it is doing in Essex. Eating agricultural crops (particularly in rice fields) is where we generally see them on our trips to Texas in the spring. Certainly they may on occasion eat insects and snails.

Conservation Status: The North American population has been increasing and expanding its range for the last 50 years, likely the result of people providing nest boxes and perhaps global climate change. There have been a number of records for this species in surrounding states this summer. It was bound to happen for Connecticut.  
To find this bird, visit the town of Essex. It has most recently been seen at the foot of Main Street at the boat launch with other ducks. Yesterday, and reportedly for the previous 10 days or so, it has been seen at the corner of Ferry Street and Pratt Street in a tidal pond across from the tugboat dealership. There are no other birds that look like it. An easy identification.

As always, be respectful of the bird and private property, and be sure to be a patron of local businesses. Lots of great lunch and dinner spots nearby.

Photo courtesy of






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