Australian wood duck (Chenonetta jubata)

Also known as: blue duck, maned duck, maned goose, maned wood duck, wood duck, wood-duck
Synonyms: Anas jubata
GenusChenonetta (1)
SizeLength: 44 - 56 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 78 - 80 cm (2)
Weight662 - 984 g (2) (4)
Top facts

The Australian wood duck is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

An unmistakable bird in its native Australia, the Australian wood duck (Chenonetta jubata) is a medium-sized duck with highly distinctive, goose-like features (3) (4) (5) which give rise to its scientific name, with chen meaning ‘goose’ and netta meaning ‘duck’. Jubata translates as ‘crested’ or ‘maned’ (4), and refers to the small, black mane-like crest on the back of the male’s dark brown head and neck. This crest can be erected in display (3) (4) (5) (6) (7).

The Australian wood duck has a plump body with relatively long legs (4) and a small, stubby bill (4) (5) (7). The male’s back, rump, tail and belly are charcoal black, while its brown-grey breast is speckled with conspicuous black and white spots (3) (4) (5) (6). The grey flanks are streaked with fine, irregular black marks (3) (4) (7), and a dark line runs from the shoulder along the tertial feathers (4). In flight, a pattern of black, grey, green and white can be seen on the upperwing (3), with the white patches being particularly conspicuous (4) (6). The primary feathers are black, while the secondary feathers are an iridescent green with white towards the tips (3), and the underwings are white (4). The Australian wood duck’s short, goose-like bill and its long legs are dark grey (3) (4) (6), and its eyes are dark brown (4).

The upperparts of the female Australian wood duck are similar to those of the male (3). However, the female has a paler head (3) (4) (5), with a white eyebrow and a second white stripe below the eye (3) (4) (5) (7), and is not as intensely patterned as the male (4). The breast, flanks and majority of the belly are buffish-grey in the female Australian wood duck, with heavy brown-black, grey and white mottling (3) (4) (7). The centres of the belly, vent and undertail-coverts are white (3) (4) (5).

The juvenile Australian wood duck is similar in appearance to the adult female, but is paler and duller (2) (3) (4) (7), with less distinct eye stripes (3). Its breast is also distinctly streaked, rather than spotted (4).

While the female Australian wood duck is generally rather noisy (3) (4), producing a distinctive, drawn-out and mournful mewing sound, the male is only known to make weak sounds, including a soft, wheezy and somewhat nasal call. The male is also capable of producing a deep rumbling noise during its breeding display, as well as a soft call to maintain contact with its brood. The female maintains contact with the ducklings with a conversational cluck (4).

As its name suggests, the Australian wood duck is endemic to Australia (4) (8). This species is generally widespread across the country, being particularly common in eastern, south-eastern and south-western Australia (2) (3) (5) (9), and is also found in Tasmania (2) (3) (4). However, the Australian wood duck does not occur in the far north of the country, and is absent from more arid regions (4) (5).

The Australian wood duck is known to disperse in response to irregular rainfall (3), and is a vagrant to Papua New Guinea (8) and New Zealand (2) (4) (8).

The Australian wood duck can be found in a wide variety of inland freshwater bodies (2) (3) (5) (10), including marshes, lakes, swamps, reservoirs, freshwater meadows and farm dams (2) (4) (5) (9) (10). Its preferred habitats are usually located within open wooded country or near croplands with abundant grazing areas (2) (3) (5) (10). While it demonstrates a preference for areas of freshwater (2) (5), the Australian wood duck occasionally occurs in coastal zones (3) (5), including salt marshes and brackish waters (5).

The Australian wood duck generally avoids densely forested areas (4), but where it does occur in such habitats, or when in large, deep waters, it tends to keep to the edge of the wetlands (5). Despite relying on freshwater habitats for breeding, the Australian wood duck can sometimes be found nesting and residing well away from a source of water (5) (9).

A gregarious species, the Australian wood duck is commonly seen in noisy flocks (4) (5), although it is usually found in solitary pairs or family groups during the breeding season (4) (10). This species spends much of its time out of the water (7), either grazing during the day or roosting at night (4) (7). While thought to be mostly sedentary, potentially remaining within the same body of water throughout its entire life, the Australian wood duck sometimes disperses to other areas (2).

Feeding mostly on green grasses, herbs, clover and other types of vegetation (2) (5) (6) (10), the Australian wood duck is a specialist grazer (4). It tends to feed on land (2) (4) (10), sometimes far from water (2), foraging among short grasses or herbs. However, this species can sometimes be observed searching for food in shallow water at the edge of wetlands (5). The Australian wood duck also takes grain and insects (4) (5) (6) (10), particularly when the availability of its preferred food items is limited (5).

The Australian wood duck’s breeding season is variable and depends on rainfall (2) (5), usually occurring between July and December in southern parts of New South Wales and Victoria, and between January and March in northern parts of New South Wales (5). The male Australian wood duck attracts a mate with a ‘burp’ display, holding its head high, spreading its feathers and erecting its mane while uttering a wheezy call (4).

The Australian wood duck nests within a large, shallow tree hollow (2) (4) (5) (10), with the tree usually located in or near water in a densely wooded area (5), but sometimes well away from water (5) (10). The nest is not lined, except for the addition of some plucked down once the large clutch of smooth, glossy, cream to creamy-white eggs has been laid (4) (5). The clutch usually consists of between 8 and 11 eggs (2) (5), which are incubated by the female Australian wood duck for 28 to 34 days (4) (5). The ducklings are encouraged by the female to jump from the nest to the water or ground below, and they begin to graze at two or three days old (4). Both adult Australian wood ducks tend to the young (4), which are fully feathered and ready to fly at 57 days old (2) (4) (5). The ducklings are usually brooded for a further two weeks (5).

Where conditions are favourable, young Australian wood ducks breed within their first year (4), and are then thought to breed at least once every two years (5).

The widespread and abundant Australian wood duck is not considered to be globally threatened (2), as it is not thought to be facing any immediate threats and it is able to exploit modified rural lands (4). However, in some areas this species is regarded as an agricultural pest as a result of the damage it causes to rice and cereal crops (2), and so is hunted extensively, particularly in the southeast of its range (2) (3) (4). Despite this, its population appears to be expanding (2) (3).

There are currently no known conservation measures in place targeting the Australian wood duck. However, as this species is able to exploit modified rural lands (4), it is thought that it has benefitted from the greater availability of freshwater and from the expansion of pasture since European settlement (10).

Find out more about the Australian wood duck:

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Ogilvie, M.A. and Young, S. (2003) Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  4. Kear, J. (2005) Ducks, Geese and Swans. Volume 2: Species Accounts (Cairina to Mergus). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Rogers, K. and Ralph, T. (2010) Floodplain Wetland Biota in the Murray-Darling Basin: Water and Habitat Requirements. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  6. Leach, J.A. (2005) An Australian Bird Book: A Complete Guide to the Identification of Australian Birds. Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, Montana, U.S.
  7. Robertson, H. and Heather, B. (2001) Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. BirdLife International - Australian wood duck (November, 2012)
  9. Thomas, R., Thomas, S., Andrew, D. and McBride, A. (2011) The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  10. Tzaros, C. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.