Wandering Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata)

Wandering Whistling Duck

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Dendrocygna arcuata | [authority] Horsfield, 1824 | [UK] Wandering Whistling Duck | [FR] Dendrocygne a lunules | [DE] Wander-Pfeifgans | [ES] Suiriri Capirotado | [NL] Zwervende Fluiteend | [copyright picture] Neil Birdforum


Monotypic species


Whistling ducks comprise a group of species that are primarily of tropical and subtropical distribution. In common with the swans and true geese (which with them comprise the subfamily Anserinae), the included species have a reticulated tarsal surface pattern, lack sexual dimorphism in plumage, produce vocalizations that are similar or identical in both sexes, form relatively permanent pair bonds, and lack complex pair-forming behavior patterns. Unlike the geese and swans, whistling ducks have clear, often melodious whistling voices that are the basis for their group name. The alternative name, tree ducks, is far less appropriate, since few of the species regularly perch or nest in trees. All the species have relatively long legs and large feet that extend beyond the fairly short tail when the birds are in flight. They dive well, and some species obtain much of their food in this manner.

Physical charateristics

The Wandering Whistling-Duck is a large duck with rich red-brown plumage overall, with a paler face, front of neck and upper breast. There is a dark stripe on the crown of head, nape and back of neck. The bill and legs are dark. There are elongated flank plumes, which are off-white with chestnut edges. In flight, the dark underwings, cinnamon and chestnut underbody, white undertail and trailing dark legs are seen.

Listen to the sound of Wandering Whistling Duck

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/ANSERIFORMES/Anatidae/sounds/Wandering Whistling Duck.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 80 cm wingspan max.: 90 cm
size min.: 40 cm size max.: 45 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 80 days fledging max.: 90 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 10  
      eggs max.: 12  


Oriental Region, Australasia : Philippines to Australia. Philippines, South Borneo, Sulawesi, Java, Lesser Sundas, Moluccas (Indonesian islands). North Australia and South New Guinea. New Britain and Fiji


Prefers deep, permanent lakes, swamps and lagoons, with emergent vegetation. Also utilise creeks and rivers and seasonally-flooded grasslands.


Unlike other birds which only need cloacal contact, in waterfowl, the males have a distinct erectile penis. Mating often takes place with genitals underwater. Lesser Whistling Ducks prefer a nest site near freshwater with dense vegetation nearby where their chicks can immediately reach the water after hatching. Usually in a bed of tall reeds, sometimes in a hollow log, or even an abandoned heron’s nest. They build a shallow cup of grass, on or close to the ground. They may rearrange surrounding vegetation to form a roof with a side-entrance. Sometimes they nest in trees. 10-12 creamy white eggs are laid. If the nest is closer to the ground, parents will distract predators by faking a broken wing and moving away from the nest. Both parents tend the ducklings. Sometimes ‘adopt’ stray ducklings. Usually tended by both parents until fledging. Sometimes large groups of up to 60 ducklings are found with few or no adults.

Feeding habits

Feeding flocks are very active; hindmost birds in feeding flocks ‘leapfrog’ to the front. Forage mainly during the day, but also active at night. Basically vegetarian. Particularly favours water lilies (Nymphaea), also sedges, other aquatic plants, and grasses. Feed mainly on water, diving up to 3m (10ft) and also dabbling on the surface and stripping seeds from plants along the water’s edge.

Video Wandering Whistling Duck


copyright: Nick Talbot


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
This species has suffered marked declines locally and is considered extinct in parts of its former range. Main threats are loss of suitable habitat owing to agricultural and urban development.
Wandering Whistling Duck status Least Concern


Water-dependant, therefore dispersed widely in the wet season, concentrated on permanent waters in the dry season

Distribution map

Wandering Whistling Duck distribution range map

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