Something to Whistle About: Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

By Oklahoma Dept of Wildlife Conservation

First posted on 06-29-2011

Recently, a pair of the most “un-duck-like” ducks has been spotted in McAlester. Residents have spotted and photographed two black-bellied whistling ducks perched on what was left of an ice storm-damaged maple tree in their urban backyard.

“I like all critters, I’m a wildlife guy that has been duck hunting all my life, but I’ve never seen something like this,” said Danny Giacomo, McAlester resident whose yard the ducks have been visiting. “I look forward to seeing them every evening about 8 o’clock with the sun highlighting their beautiful colors.”

Black-bellied whistling ducks are widespread in the tropics of central to south-central South America and in Texas, Arizona and coastal Louisiana.

According to Mark Howery, Wildlife Diversity biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, sightings have increased in Oklahoma over the last decade. Within the past 10-12 years, the black-bellied whistling duck has become a regular breeding species in McCurtain County with nests documented so far this year in Broken Bow and at Red Slough WMA.  Over the past decade, they have been recorded in at least seven counties including Tulsa, Kingfisher, and Osage.

“It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of these ducks, because they are part of the exotic waterfowl trade,” Howery said. “These ducks are primarily a combination of wild-born ducks moving up from Texas, or escaped captive birds.”

Howery thinks their northern movements are due to their adaptation to human environments.

“These are wetland birds, and like many wetland birds, they are mobile and can move around from season to season following rainfall patterns as wetlands dry up in some areas and fill up in others,” he said. “Outside nesting season, they will wander for feeding areas.”

This duck species has some goose-like behaviors, but a diet and bill shape that is more like that of a dabbling duck.

“Black-bellied whistling ducks are their own tribe of ducks,” Howery said.

Black-bellied whistling ducks eat a variety of insects and seeds. They can be spotted perching on trees or nesting in tree cavities. 

The sighting of these unique ducks portrays Oklahoma’s ecologic diversity. Oklahoma ranks as one of the top ecologically diverse states in the nation, home to everything from antelope to alligators.