This fall, numbers of American black duck at Goose Pond are down compared to other years. However, we have been seeing a few black ducks and a pair was present on December 16th.
Black ducks often flock with the ubiquitous mallard, where they look quite similar to female mallards. If you take a closer look at the mallards on Goose Pond you may notice the dark chocolate-brown flanks, pale grayish face, and olive-yellow bill of an American black duck. Unfortunately black ducks are shy and like to stay in the far northwest corner of Goose Pond where it is not easy to get a close look at them.
Sam Robbins listed black ducks in 1990 as a common to fairly common migrant and a fairly common winter resident. The North American Breeding Bird Survey recorded a decline of about 84% between 1966 and 2014. Since 2004, declines have slowed.
American black ducks are warier than many other duck species, such as mallards, and thus less tolerant of disturbance. Mallards may have even contributed to the decline in black ducks, since Mallards thrive under urban conditions and may oust their shyer cousins from the habitat (as well as altering local populations by hybridizing with them).
Black ducks are mostly found breeding in freshwater wetlands throughout northeastern North America, including beaver ponds, bogs in boreal forests, and wooded swamps. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that there were 541,000 breeding black ducks in 2015 in the eastern population.
In late fall migration usually 2-3% of the “mallard flock” at Goose Pond is comprised of black ducks. We usually have over 2,000 mallards at Goose Pond and this fall mallard numbers have been at a record low of about 600. We never saw an influx of northern ducks including mallards and black ducks. Maybe with the mild weather most of northern ducks stayed north and passed us by late in migration. Black ducks are uncommon breeders in Wisconsin and only a handful of confirmed nesting records were reported in this year’s bird atlas work.
We are not sure how long Goose Pond will be open for you to view black ducks. Your best place to search for black ducks would be in spring seeps and open water creeks in south central Wisconsin. We are fortunate to have a black duck carving by Beau Payton, wildlife carver from Marshall, and enjoy seeing that beautiful black duck every day.
Written by Mark Martin & Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Resident Managers
Photo by Henry T. McLin, Flickr Creative Commons