Photo Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Anus rubripes

STATUS: Local breeder. Common in winter, uncommon in spring and fall, and rare in summer in Tennessee Vallley region. Rare in fall, winter, and spring in Mountain and Inland Coastal Plain regions. Occasional in winter, spring, and fall in Gulf Coast region. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.

DESCRIPTION: The American black duck is a large dabbling duck with an average weight of 2.4 lbs for females and 2.7 lbs for males.Wingspans average 35 to 37 inches and lengths range from 21 to 23 inches.Coloration on the body is dark blackish-brown with the head and neck a lighter brown.White underwing linings contrast sharply with the dark colored body in flight.The speculum of the American black duck is purple with no white around the edges.The bill of the male is olive green to drab yellow, and the female? is olive to greenish-gray with dark markings.The American black duck is often misidentified as a female mallard due to similarities in size, shape, and coloration.

DISTRIBUTION: The American black duck is most common in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways.Summer ranges include Eastern Canada and United States, from northeastern Manitoba through Newfoundland, southward to northern Minnesota and eastern Virginia.Winter ranges vary from southern Canada to the GulfCoast and Northern Florida, and westward to western Iowa.  

HABITAT: The American black duck utilizes a wide variety of wetland habitats, from saltwater marshes to beaver ponds, river islands, and boreal bogs.Large bodies of water seem to be preferred.Breeding habitats include a variety of riparian forest types, wetlands, and water types free of human disturbance.

FEEDING HABITS: American black ducks are considered dabblers which means they tip up to feed in shallow fresh and brackish water.The black duck feeds primarily on invertebrates, small amphibians, seeds and other plant material in freshwater habitats and mollusks and crustaceans in maritime habitats.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: The American black duck breeds in a variety of wetland habitats.Nests are constructed of dry vegetation and lined with down.Nests are usually well hidden near an edge or break in cover.Clutch size ranges from one to 17 eggs with an average of nine.Eggs are incubated by the female for 23 to 33 days prior to hatching.Young are born covered in down and are able to leave the nest soon after hatching.The precocial young are ready to fledge 58 to 60 days after hatching.Nest predation by crows, gulls, and foxes has been reported.The American black duck populations declined significantly in the mid 20th century.Though reasons for the decline are unclear, habitat changes, lead poisoning, pesticide use, and expansion of mallard populations into black duck breeding habitats have all played a part in the species decline.Restrictions on hunting bag limits and joint efforts between the United States and Canada may have the numbers on the rise.


Author: Chris Jaworowski, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries