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What Is the American Black Duck?

B. Chisholm
B. Chisholm

The American black duck is a large dabbling duck similar to the mallard. They have dark chestnut feathers on their bodies and are slightly lighter on the neck and head. In flight, a purple-blue speculum, or patch, can be seen on the wing, and the underside of the wings is much lighter than the rest of the duck's feathers. Their legs and feet are red.

One of the most discerning traits of the American black duck is the fact that, unusually for birds, the male and female are very similar. They differ only in the color of the beak and the difference is most notable during the mating season. While the male American black duck has an olive green to yellow bill, the female has a duller, more olive green one. The scientific name for the American black duck is Anas rubripes.


The American black duck is found in the US and Canada and the population at one time was steadily declining. The true cause of this is uncertain but it is thought that possibly the mallard duck population has expanded and inter-breeding has occurred while they have also taken over breeding grounds previously inhabited by the American black ducks. Conservation efforts and restricted hunting have, however, resulted in their numbers rising.

Most commonly the American black ducks live along the Northeastern coast of the US in forested wetlands or marshy areas and they may migrate seasonally. During fall and winter the breeding pairs come together. They remain together through the winter into breeding season when the female lays her eggs, usually between nine and ten of them. The male then leaves the female to incubate the eggs and goes through a molting process, leaving him flightless for a month.

The eggs of the American black duck are usually white to greenish. When the ducklings are born they are able to swim and feed themselves, and as soon as they're big enough the mother duck goes through the molting period too. By August both sexes are able to fly again.

American black ducks are omnivorous, that is they eat both vegetable and animal products. They dabble, or dip down into the water, feeding on plant materials and small animals under the surface and may occasionally dive deeper down. In freshwater these animals may include aquatic insects or amphibians, like tadpoles, and in saltwater environments they may include crustaceans and mollusks. They may occasionally scrabble for food on land, but this is unusual.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the American Black Duck?

The American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) is a large dabbling duck native to eastern North America. It's known for its dark brown body, lighter head, and distinctive violet-blue speculum with black borders. These ducks prefer freshwater marshes, estuaries, and rivers, and are often mistaken for female Mallards due to similar plumage.

How does the American Black Duck differ from the Mallard?

While similar in size to the Mallard, the American Black Duck has darker plumage, with a more uniform dark brown coloration. The male's bill is yellow-olive compared to the Mallard's brighter yellow. Behaviorally, Black Ducks are more secretive and less likely to associate with humans than the more adaptable Mallards.

What is the conservation status of the American Black Duck?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the American Black Duck is currently classified as "Least Concern." However, their populations have declined due to habitat loss and hybridization with Mallards, prompting conservation efforts to monitor and protect their habitats.

What do American Black Ducks eat?

American Black Ducks are omnivorous and have a varied diet that includes aquatic plants, seeds, insects, small fish, and crustaceans. They feed by dabbling on the water's surface or tipping up to reach underwater vegetation, often foraging in shallow waters where they can easily access food sources.

Where can you find American Black Ducks?

These ducks breed in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, particularly in the Great Lakes region, Atlantic Coast, and St. Lawrence River. In winter, they migrate to the southeastern U.S. coast. Prime viewing locations include protected wetlands, wildlife refuges, and coastal marshes during migration seasons.

How do American Black Ducks reproduce?

American Black Ducks typically breed once a year, with females laying an average of 6-14 eggs per clutch. They nest in concealed locations near water, using reeds and grasses to build their nests. After about a 28-day incubation period, the ducklings hatch and are led to water by the mother within a day to begin feeding.

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