The white-faced whistling-duck (Dendrocygna viduata) is a long-legged duck with a conspicuous white face and neck patch that sits in sharp contrast to its otherwise black and brown plumage (3)(4). The rest of the head and neck is black along with the wings, rump and tail, and the breast is a rich chestnut colour. The sides of the body are lightly barred black and white, and the bill and legs are slaty grey (5). The male and female white-faced whistling-duck are similar in appearance, although the female is typically less bold in colour, but the juvenile has a greyish, white or ash-grey face, throat and underparts, and the chestnut on the breast is less extensively and duller (2). The whistling ducks are so named for their high-pitched whistling calls, but are also known as tree ducks due to their habit of perching on branches. These birds have broad wings, and so are highly manoeuvrable in flight, although not particularly fast (4).
Active mainly at night, during the day the gregarious white-faced whistling-duck spends most of the time standing alert in flocks around water or in marshy areas. When alarmed, it may freeze and stand tall in a distinctive erect posture while watching intently, or may sharply spring into the air before fleeing (8). At night, the birds fly to foraging areas to feed on a varied diet that includes grass, seeds and aquatic molluscs, by wading, swimming or diving (2)(7)(8)(9). In response to seasonal fluctuations in food and water availability, the white-faced whistling-duck may undertake short migrations that see it travel as far as 500 kilometres in search of favourable foraging grounds (1)(2).
Breeding starts at the beginning of the local rainy season, when the white-faced whistling-duck may nest in solitary pairs, small groups, or loose colonies (7). The nest is a simple depression in the ground amongst long grass or reedbeds that is placed over, or just a short distance from water (2)(7)(9). In South America, this bird may also nest in open crevices in trees (7). A clutch of 4 to 13 eggs is laid and then incubated for some 26 to 28 days before the chicks fledge 8 weeks after hatching (2). After the breeding season, the adult birds undergo a flightless moult period that lasts for 18 to 25 days. During this time, they are particularly vulnerable to predation and so seek cover in densely vegetated wetlands. When not breeding, the white-faced whistling-duck is particularly gregarious and may forage in flocks of several thousand birds (7).
The white-faced whistling-duck is found in tropical parts of Central and South America and Africa. In the Americas, it ranges from Costa Rica south to central Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina and east to Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam north of the Orinoco (2)(6). It is also an occasional visitor to some West Indian islands (3). In Africa, it occurs south of the Sahara from Senegal to Ethiopia, southwards to South Africa, Madagascar and the Comoros Islands (2).
The white-faced whistling-duck occupies a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, swamps, large rivers and flood-plains and some artificial habitats, such as rice fields and sewage farms. It prefers wetlands in open county with mud or sandbars and a rich variety of emergent vegetation for nesting (2)(7).
With a very wide distribution, and a large population that is thought to be increasing in size, the white-faced whistling-duck is not under immediate threat of extinction. The species is, however, susceptible to avian botulism and avian influenza, and so may become threatened by future outbreaks of these diseases. In parts of its African range, the white-faced whistling-duck is hunted for local consumption and trade, such as in Malawi and Botswana, and is hunted for use in traditional medicine in Nigeria (7).
A paralytic, often fatal, disease of birds caused by the ingestion of toxin produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum.
Also known as “bird flu”, a contagious disease caused by any strain of influenza virus that is carried by and primarily affects birds.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
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