The Whistling Duck

In the order of Anseriformes (water fowl with webbed feet) is the family of Anatidae. The Anatidae family consists of swans, geese and ducks. Within the family is a tribe of whistling ducks called Dendrocygnini. This week's bird of the week is in that tribe of ducks and is the species 'Dendrocygna Autumnalis, or the Black Bellied Whistling Duck.

I was sitting on the bank of a jungle lagoon along the Northern River near the village of Maskall when I first noticed this peculiar duck. I spent days, in fact weeks went by before I could identify it. I finally stumbled across some information on it in Carolyn Miller's new book 100 Birds of Belize and its mystery started to unfold.

Its appearance is so odd I lost credibility with Bubba when I tried describing it to him. It was obviously a duck, with a duck's typical broad bill with rounded tip, webbed feet and approximate size and shape. It has a distinctive pale blue eye ring and pink bill. Its head and upper neck was a rich gray. Its flank and belly are black as its name implies. Most of the remainder of its body was a chocolate brown with the exception of a white underwing stripe. It stood on one pink leg and pink foot that ended in large gloss black toe nails. Its perch was a post protruding about 2 feet from the surface of the lagoon.

The lagoon is infested with snappy Morelet's crocodile and at a first glance I thought it might have lost a leg to carelessness with them but then noticed its other leg folded tight against its belly.

Where I lost credibility was when I began to describe its hairdo. It had a dark brown crown that went from a distinct Mohawk on top to what looked like a short cropped horse's mane halfway down its neck.

Bubba asked me if I had been smoking anything unusual in the jungle or possibly chewing cohune root again. I assured him I hadn't, but he gave me a disbelieving glance.

Predators have caused nature to give the whistling duck a large clutch capability in order to continue the species. A nest in a large tree cavity may contain more than 100 eggs, but not all the product of one duck. The nest is shared by the entire community of whistlers.

Even though this duck is described as highly gregarious, I saw only one during the week I spent in the area.

I know crocodile eat fish, frogs and snakes, surely little flightless duck hatchlings must be on the list.

As I walked back to the lodge wondering what kind of duck this must be, as if to give me a clue it had taken flight from its perch and flew past my retreat making a high pitched nasal whistling noise. Sometimes the answer is so obvious it eludes me.

Birds of Ambergris Caye

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