Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks


Every morning at about one-half hour before sunrise until the sun is up, and in the evening from one-half hour before sunset until just after dark, flocks of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks pass over my home. Most of the groups are 10-15 individuals with a group of 35 the largest I have seen. Probably about 200 of these unique ducks pass over me twice each day.

This species gets its name from two rather obvious characteristics. First is the black abdomen and second is its whistled voice. You can hear its voice at this link.

The range of this tropical duck extends from Argentina north to the southernmost portions of the United States, primarily Arizona, Texas and Florida. You can learn more about their biology at this link. This duck is also well known for its long-distance vagrancy that includes records from North Dakota (which I didn't see). My records include birds in Maryland, Missouri and Virginia that are north of where the species should usually be found. My southernmost record is a group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks seen in Misiones Province, Argentina on September 5, 2002. These birds were in a huge area known as the Ibera wetlands near the Paraguay border.

The Florida Breeding Bird Atlas shows the distribution of this species in the state as being highly concentrated in west-central counties surrounding and adjacent to Tampa Bay. The map shows no confirmed breeding records for Sarasota County. That is simply an artifact of the dates when these data were collected. Just a couple weeks ago on October 20, 2009, I found a family group made up of 2 adults and 5 nearly fledged young at the Celery Fields wetlands southeast of Sarasota.

Regardless this is one very unique and interesting not to mention beautiful species of waterfowl. I'm quite fortunate to be able to sit on my lanai at sunrise and sunset and watch them fly to and from where ever they go. I'm certain the birds are traveling to the Cooper Creek Park about 1/2 mile southeast of me in the evening. Where they go in the morning is a mystery. Their flight path takes them northwest of my home to somewhere but as much searching as I have done in Sarasota and Manatee Counties I have only seen this bird here, at Cooper Creek and the Celery Fields. I guess this is just one more little mystery to solve in retirement.

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