AMERICAN BLACK DUCK (Anas rubripes)
DESCRIPTION: The American Black Duck is a large dabbling duck with a dark brown body. The feathers are edged in light brown in a scalloped fashion. The wings have blue secondaries. The head cap is brown and the cheeks, neck and nape are beige. There is a light brown bar above the eye, which is black. Sexes are similar except for the bill – in the males it is dark yellow with a black tip, whereas for females it is olive green. The legs and feet are dark orange. This duck is about 58 cm (22 inches) long.
NAME: The English name ‘Duck’ is from Anglo-saxon ‘duce’ and means ‘diver’. Although called ‘Black’, this duck is actually brown (it was formerly called the ‘Dusky Duck’). The Latin genus name ‘Anas’ means ‘duck’, and the Latin species name ‘rubripes’ means ‘red foot’, in reference to this duck’s feet color (which are more orange than red).
HABITAT: Forest wetlands such as lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers; American black ducks are well adapted to both freshwater and saltwater areas.
DIET: Aquatic insects, crustaceans, molluscs, vegetation. Feeds by upending.
NESTING: The nest is a scrape on the ground in a well-hidden area near water. Around ten creamy eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. Eggs hatch within a few hours, and the female leads the ducklings to water. These can feed themselves.
Lucy (see ‘Notes’ below) is not the only duck using human-built structures to make a nest and have a family, as there are reports from other cities where this is happening too.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of this duck covers the eastern half of Canada up to the tree line, starting from Ontario. It is a year-round resident in parts of the Canadian Maritimes and most of the northeast USA (except most of Maine). Part of the population migrates in the eastern half of the USA.
ON PEI: The American black duck breeds on Prince Edward Island and is a year-round common species.
CONSERVATION: Although the American black duck is still not considered at risk, its population is decreasing as it faces a number of challenges. One of these is loss of habitat due to clearing of forests thus allowing in more Mallards. The American black duck then interbreeds extensively with that species, to which it is closely related. There is also loss of wetland due to drainage for development.
LUCY: ‘Lucy’ the Duck had been a celebrity of sorts for a few years in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. This female American black duck had found an unusual nesting location – the garden center at a grocery store. She probably figured out it was a better place to be protected from predators. (See photo below of Lucy on her nest, and also a video of her leading her ducklings to a nearby marsh). In the spring of 2017 Ducks Unlimited had installed a web cam at her nesting location. Unfortunately, she did not come back the following year, so her whereabouts are unknown.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Gadwall, Mallard (female)
American Bird Conservancy (American Black Duck)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp – (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
Ducks Unlimited Canada (American Black Duck)
Here’s a video of Lucy who just finished crossing University Avenue in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, with her ducklings, and leading them to a nearby marsh:
The video below shows a group of American black ducks in the Charlottetown harbour on a January day: