American black duck

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American black duck
American black duck in flight
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Anatinae
Genus: Anas
Species: A. rubripes
Binomial name
Anas rubripes
(Brewster, 1902)

Anas obscura

The American black duck (Anas rubripes) is a large dabbling duck. American black ducks are similar to mallards in size, and resemble the female mallard in coloration, although the black duck's plumage is darker. It is native to eastern North America and has shown reduction in numbers and increasing hybridization with the more common mallard as that species has spread with man-made habitat changes.


Male's beak is yellow
File:American Black Duck female RWD6.jpg
Female's beak is dull green

American black ducks weigh 720–1,640 g (1.59–3.62 lb), measure 48–63 cm (19–25 in) in length and 88–96 cm (35–38 in) across the wings.[2] Although they are similar to mallards in size and broadly overlap in weight, according to a manual of avian body masses, they have the highest mean body mass in the Anas genus, with 376 males averaging 1.4 kg (3.1 lb) and 176 females averaging 1.1 kg (2.4 lb).[3][4] The American black duck somewhat resembles the female mallard in coloration, although the black duck's plumage is darker. The male and female black duck are generally similar in appearance, but the male's bill is yellow while the female's is a dull green. The head is slightly lighter brown than the dark brown body, and the speculum are iridescent violet-blue with predominantly black margins. The black duck has orange legs and dark eyes. In flight, the white underwings can be seen in contrast to the dark brown body. The behaviour and voice are the same as for the mallard drake.[5]


Anas rubripes female, Hudson River, New Jersey, US.

Their breeding habitat is alkaline marshes, acid bogs, lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, brackish marshes, and the margins of estuaries and other aquatic environments in northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, across Ontario and Quebec as well as the Atlantic Canadian Provinces, including the Great Lakes, and the Adirondacks in the United States. Female black ducks lay an average of 9 eggs.[5]

Black ducks interbreed regularly and extensively with mallard ducks,[6] to which they are closely related. Some authorities even consider the black duck to be a subspecies of the mallard, not a separate species at all. Mank et al. argue that this is in error as the extent of hybridization alone is not a valid means to delimitate Anas species.[7]

In the past, it has been proposed that black ducks and mallards were formerly separated by habitat preference, with the black ducks’ dark plumage giving them a selective advantage in shaded forest pools in eastern North America, and the mallards’ lighter plumage giving an advantage in the brighter, more open prairie and plains lakes. In recent times, according to this view, deforestation in the east, and tree planting on the plains, has broken down this habitat separation, leading to the high levels of hybridization now observed.[8] However, rates of past hybridization are unknown in this and most other avian hybrid zones, and it is merely presumed in the case of the American black duck that past hybridization rates were lower than those seen today. Also, many avian hybrid zones are known to be stable and longstanding despite the occurrence of extensive interbreeding.[6] American black ducks and local mallards are now very hard to distinguish by means of microsatellite comparisons, even if many specimens are sampled [9] Contrary to this study's claims, the question whether the American haplotypes are an original mallard lineage is far from resolved. Their statement, “[N]orthern black ducks are now no more distinct from mallards than their southern conspecifics” of course only holds true in regard to the molecular markers tested. As birds indistinguishable according to the set of microsatellite markers still can look different, there are other genetic differences that were simply not tested in the study.[7]

The hybrids cannot be readily distinguished in the field and consequently, much of the species’ hybridization dynamics remains unknown. It has been revealed in captivity studies, however, most of the hybrids don’t follow Haldane's Rule, but sometimes hybrid females die before they reach sexual maturity [6][10] this underscores the case for the American black duck being a distinct species.

This species is partially migratory and many winter in the east-central United States, especially coastal areas; some remain year-round in the Great Lakes region. These birds feed by dabbling in shallow water, and grazing on land. They mainly eat plants, but also some mollusks and aquatic insects. The eggs are a greenish buff color. They lay from 6–14 eggs, and hatch in an average of 30 days.

This duck is a rare vagrant to Great Britain and Ireland, where, over the years, several birds have settled in and bred with the local mallards. The resulting hybrids can present considerable identification difficulties.

An American black duck (top left) and a female mallard (bottom right) in eclipse plumage.
Comparison chart showing difference from female mallard


The black duck has long been valued as a game bird, being extremely wary and fast on the wing. Although this is a species of least concern, it is slowly declining due to habitat destruction. Some conservationists consider the hybridization and competition with the mallard an additional source of concern, should this decline continue.[11][12] The hybridization itself is not the major problem; natural selection will see to it that the best-adapted individuals still have the most offspring. But the reduced viability of female hybrids will cause some broods to fail in the long run as the offspring die before reproducing themselves. While this is not a problem in the plentiful mallard, it might place an additional strain on the American black duck's population. Recent research conducted for the Delta Waterfowl Foundation suggests that hybrids are a result of forced copulations, and not a normal pairing choice by black hens.[13]

In popular culture

The Black Duck has been portrayed in several media, most notably the black duck species being the chosen species for the character of Daffy Duck from Looney Tunes.

See also


  1. BirdLife International (2012). "Anas rubripes". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. [1] (2011).
  3. CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  4. CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses, 2nd Edition by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (2008), ISBN 978-1-4200-6444-5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "American Black Duck Facts and Figure". Ducks Unlimited.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 McCarthy, Eugene M. (2006). "Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World". Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  8. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  9. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  10. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  11. Rhymer, Judith M. (2006). "Extinction by hybridization and introgression in anatine ducks" (PDF). Acta Zoologica Sinica. 52 (Supplement): 583–585.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  13. "Black Ducks in Peril". American Hunter. 2013-03-01. Retrieved 2013-03-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links