January 2011 Bird Photo of the Month

Out on a limb © John J. Waite
Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Blue Cypress Lake, Canon Powershot SX20 IS, 250th Sec at F8

This Black-bellied Whistling-Duck regal on its high weathered perch is a wandering, social bird with a high-pitched soft whistle. Not seen in Florida until 1995, it now breeds even here in Indian River County.  Though a neotropical species found mostly in Arizona, Texas, Mexico and all the way to Brazil, it recently has been sighted as far north as Nova Scotia. Like our Wood duck it most often nests in tree cavities. It is quite humorous balancing on tree branches with its webbed feet, made for swimming, but unique webscales provide good traction for climbing and perching.  It was formerly called a Tree Duck, along with its close kin the Fulvous Whistling-Duck.

What do birds do all day?  Photographer John J. Waite took this picture typical of the duck being vigilant, spending 60% of its time watching for predators: snakes, owls, raptors and hunters.  Due to roosting separate from feeding areas they spend 22% traveling and 18% on sleeping, fighting, enjoying life, and feeding (mostly nocturnally) on seeds, grass, and grains. Pair bonding takes place before breeding season by mutual preening and nibbling, but mating itself is over in less than 5 seconds, though repeated often.  Life changes with parenthood: 62% feeding with ducklings (yet one parent vigilant), 19%, traveling, 15%, sleeping and grooming, and 4% fighting or relaxing. Ducklings are precocial with the ability to jump from the nest tree, walk, swim and forage immediately upon hatching.  Thus parental demands only last about 8 weeks per yearly brood!

Juanita Baker
Pelican Island Audubon
Bird Photo of the Month Coordinator

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