James Masek, Wildlife Biologist
The fulvous whistling duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) is a rare visitor to Alabama, but its distinctive physical characteristics allow for easy identification. The population of the fulvous whistling duck is estimated at just over one million birds. Although the fulvous whistling ducks of North America breed only in Texas, California, Louisiana, and Florida, they are occasionally seen throughout Alabama and have been seen as far north as British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
Prior to the cool temperatures of winter, the fulvous whistling duck migrates to the east coast of Mexico. As warm spring temperatures return to the breeding grounds so do the fulvous whistling ducks. Their return in early March signals the beginning of the breeding season, which will continue through July. The nests are built either on the ground in dense vegetation or on floating vegetation. The nest is a shallow cup of grass or well-woven basket of reeds lined with a modest amount of down feathers. Frequently the surrounding vegetation will be arched over the nest to help conceal it from predators. The average clutch size is 12 to 15 buff-white eggs and both the female and male incubate and participate in the brood rearing. The eggs incubate for 24-26 days and the young ducklings are able to fly at 55-63 days old.
The fulvous whistling duck has a tawny or dull yellow overall color. The adult male and female plumage is identical. Their crown and nape are a rufous-brown color and the back is dark brown with chestnut feather fringes and the rump is white. Ivory-edged side and flank feathers form a striking border between the sides and back. The bill, legs and feet are a blue gray color. The fulvous whistling duck’s long legs and neck allow even the novice birdwatcher to make an accurate identification.
The fulvous whistling duck inhabits shallow freshwater marshes, lakes, and flooded agricultural fields. This duck commonly feeds at night on waste grain, aquatic vegetation, and seeds found in both fields and shallow water.
Although fulvous whistling duck sightings are considered rare in Alabama, this goose-shaped duck is frequently seen well outside its home range. The duck’s mobility, coupled with its highly recognizable shape (long legs and neck), greatly increases the likelihood of seeing and identifying this unique bird anywhere in Alabama.