West Indian Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arborea)

West Indian Whistling Duck

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Dendrocygna arborea | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] West Indian Whistling Duck | [FR] Dendrocygne a bec noir | [DE] Kuba-Pfeifgans | [ES] Suiriri Yaguaza, Chiriria Caribena | [NL] Westindische Fluiteend


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Dendrocygna arborea NA West Indies


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

Generally, the West Indian Whistling Duck, whose call is a haunting four or five syllable whistle, is between 20 and 24 inches tall, and weighs about two and a half pounds. It has a chestnut brown forehead, with a dark brown/black stripe from the crown down the back of the neck. Its face is pale ginger, fading to grey and white on the chin, throat and neck. The feathers on the back and tail are medium brown, as are the wings. The primary feathers of the upper wing have silvery buff patches on them. The duck’s sides and flanks are black with distinctive white mottling. They have black beaks and the legs and feet are dark blue/black. In flight, the duck’s legs trail behind them and are longer than the tail.

Listen to the sound of West Indian Whistling Duck

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

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 48 cm size max.: 58 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 6  
      eggs max.: 12  


North America : West Indies. Dendrocygna arborea historically ranged throughout the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands (to UK), Cuba, Cayman Islands (to UK), Jamaica, Haiti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (to USA), Virgin Islands (to UK), Virgin Islands (to USA), St Kitts and Nevis (only an occasional visitor in the past and future records unlikely due to habitat deterioration), Antigua and Barbuda, and Guadeloupe (to France).


Normally a night feeder, the West Indian Whistling Duck spends daylight hours roosting in mangroves, woodlands or swamps. At dusk they fly to their feeding grounds which are usually ponds (fresh, brackish or salt water) surrounded by thick vegetation or seasonally flooded grasslands.


The breeding season varies from island to island. In Cayman it seems to occur at any time throughout the year, but most commonly at the onset of the rainy season in May/June. Breeding pairs often stay together for more than one season, and both male and female build the nest. The nests can be found in tree holes and on horizontal branches, although it is not uncommon for pairs to nest on or near the ground, or on ironshore outcrops in lagoons. Clutches typically number between 5-13 eggs and both birds take turns every 24 hours to incubate them. When the fledglings hatch, both parents assist in care for several weeks afterwards.

Feeding habits

The ducks are largely vegetarian, feeding on fruits and seeds of grasses and other plants. They also eat freshwater snails, and tadpoles.

Video West Indian Whistling Duck


copyright: David Ascanio


This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small and severely fragmented range within which it is hunted, and the area, extent and quality of remaining habitat is undergoing a continuing decline, with populations at some sites disappearing altogether. However, there is evidence that the species may now be increasing, and if this were confirmed it may qualify for downlisting to Near Threatened.
It has suffered from excessive and under-regulated hunting for subsistence (including eggs) and sport. Wetlands are a very limited habitat in the Caribbean, with continuing conversion primarily for development. More than 50% of remaining wetlands are seriously degraded by the cutting of mangroves and swamp-forest, pollution (chemical runoff from nearby agriculture, sewage, garbage), water mismanagement, and natural catastrophes such as droughts and hurricanes. Predation by introduced species is inadequately documented, but mongoose, racoons, rats, and feral cats and dogs are known to kill adults and young and eat eggs.
West Indian Whistling Duck status Vulnerable


This secretive, non-migratory duck is crepuscular or nocturnal and generally considered site faithful, but it will wander in search of water and good habitat during periodic drought

Distribution map

West Indian Whistling Duck distribution range map

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