Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

This South American whistling duck is expanding its range north, and there are many places in Florida to see them.

The Black-Bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) is a common bird in Central and South America, but in the past decades, it has expanded its range north into Florida, Texas, and parts of Louisiana. (See range map here.) Multiple places in Florida have resident populations, especially from Orlando south, and they’re becoming more common.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

The Black-Bellied Whistling Duck eats mainly vegetation, and in recent years has taken to eating agricultural crops like corn and rice, which may have led to the northward expansion in its range. Though they primarily forage at night, they can be found eating at any time of day, often moving across lawns or golf courses near shallow ponds or lakes. They form strong mating bonds, nesting in boxes or tree hollows where they don’t bother building nests but instead lay their eggs on whatever material has accumulated there. If these ducks live in your area, try building and installing nest boxes to invite them to breed in your yard. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends boxes be about 24 inches high at the front and 20 inches at the back, with a hole about 5–6 inches in diameter.)

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

As for the name “whistling duck,” once you’ve heard their distinctive call, you’ll understand. (Hear recordings of their calls by clicking here.) They are also sometimes called “tree ducks,” for their habit of perching in trees. You’ll often hear these ducks before you see them, but they’re not especially hard to spot due to their habit of forming large groups. If you’d like to see Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks in the wild, use eBird’s species spotting maps to find recent locations.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.