Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Iconic Texas Bird

When someone mentions Texas birds, the first species that always springs to my mind is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. I know that they're not the most glamorous or exciting of our avian residents. And I realize that they're not specifically Texan birds - their range extends to other US states and to many Latin American countries. But they somehow seem to fit Texas so well. Perhaps it's because, like the state, they're big and bold and sometimes downright brassy.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are resident in southeast Texas but they seem much more common here in the summer than in the winter. At this time of year you can't go far in our area without seeing some either flying overhead or just standing around. 

In flight they are very easy to recognize by their size, their general shape and the white patches on their wings. (The white on the wings helps to distinguish them from Fulvous Whistling Ducks, summer visitors which have all-black wings.)

As they're more like geese than ducks, they spend much more time grazing in fields or on the shores of ponds and lakes than they do feeding on the water. 

They're easily identified by their combination of black belly, white wing stripe, orange bill, white eye ring and punk hairstyle.

Unlike other geese and ducks, they are often seen perching on fences, on trees and on utility poles. (At the college, their favorite perches are the tops of the tall lampposts in our parking lots.)

This perching ability is perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. After all, they have webbed feet which can't curl around like those of most birds. So it constantly amazes me to see them, even on very windy days, standing on utility wires and presumably managing to do so purely by balance.

For four or five years in a row we had several pairs of Whistling Ducks raise families on the retention ponds at the CyFair campus. Unfortunately,  none nested here last year. Perhaps they'll return later this year, now that construction work at the college has stopped.


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