The Life of the American Black Duck
A Wonder of Nature
The darkest dabbling duck on the water looks nearly all black at a distance. Some claim that it is the same size as a Mallard, but having seen and worked with these birds closely, it is larger and much more aggressive. During the 1930’s and ‘40’s, this was the most abundant duck in both the eastern and central portion of North America. It was also the most hunted without any real decline in numbers. However, today the tables have turned, and hunting and displacement by the Mallard ranks has taken a definite toll on it.
The black duck and the Mallard have hybridized greatly over the years to create a colorful, beautiful and very hardy duck. There once was a claim that the black duck is a melanistic(surplus of dark pigment in its plumage) Mallard. It was also indicated that this coloration was due to the bird’s dark forest habitat. It is quite true that the two interbreed somewhat often, but I don’t believe that the dark color will be phased out any time soon. Genetically, darker and larger will overcome lighter and smaller.
Pairing and Courtship
Black ducks pair during the winter, and when their instinct dictates, they migrate northward in pairs. In no way does pairing affect their courtship, which still must be adhered to in the natural ways of life. Courtship is a combination of durability, as well as physical prowess. Each member of the pair will try to outfly one another. These ducks will fly up and down a pond or lake, land in the water, and just as quickly resume flight once again. Eventually, the female will decide if the male is worthy, then they will settle down on the water, where she will accept his offerings.
Nesting and the Young
The nest is usually built on the ground, but upon occasion they will nest in trees. The nest is never far from water, carefully hidden under low, brushy growth or well within marsh grass. Incubation is about 27 days, performed solely by the female. The male usually departs as soon as breeding ends. The female will cover her eggs with nesting material and down when she has the need to feed.
The young will remain in the nest for a couple of hours to dry, then they are upon the water. The ducklings resemble the Mallard, except the black duckling has a mottled breast. Like most ducks, mother will use the feigned injury tactic if danger is near. At the first alarm from her, the ducklings will scatter in and under any nearby debris or vegetation in the vicinity.
The black duck is the wariest of all ducks. It will rarely drop to the water without first circling and observing the terrain below it. During the winter, this duck often feeds under the cover of darkness. During daylight hours, it will stay in open water, especially during hunting season. Extensive freezing can reverse this, as they just cannot get enough food. Usually by then, hunting season is over.
Feeding and Dangers
The black duck prefers animal life more than the Mallard, about 25 to 35 percent of total food intake. During nesting season, dangers include floods, drought, and marsh fires. Heavy icing can reduce the availability of food and cause starvation. Opossums, skunks, raccoons, and crows can eat the eggs. Fish and snapping turtles will eat the young. Eagles, hawks and owls eat ducks when available. Botulism will affect these ducks when there isn’t enough water where they feed, as it grows when water renewal is not sufficient. Accidents also take their tolls, as well as hunting, as they are reportedly very good table fare.