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The African black duck

7 November 2013

 

www.leopard.tvThe African black duck Anas sparsa was first described scientifically by Eyton in 1838. The name sparsa either indicates its scattered distribution or the scattered white spots on the back. It is a medium-sized duck with the males being some 58 cm tall and weighing 1.09 kg, as opposed to 51 cm and 0.91 kg in the females. The most characteristic feature is the white markings on the back, wings and tail. The upper parts are brownish black with a paler breast and flanks. The tail is crossed by two rows of white spots, the pattern of which is individually unique. The bill is slate-grey black but the lower mandible is pink at its base. The eyes are brown and the legs and feet are yellow-orange.

African black ducks occur endemically in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. In South Africa they are common below the escarpment in the eastern Limpopo, eastern Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces, but they are also widespread over much of the eastern and south-central plateaux. Their distribution extends along rivers into the western arid regions. They are sedentary and territorial and prefer perennial rivers and streams as a habitat.

The African black duck is alert and wary of humans and pairs roost together at night. It is mainly active around sunrise and forages among rocks in mud, among aquatic plants, in flooded grasslands, rivers and adjacent bodies of water Foraging is mainly done by dabbling and it mainly eats aquatic invertebrates and vegetation. It is monogamous and a solitary nester with pair bonds lasting several years. The nest is only built by the female by using material on the nesting site. The nest is built on the ground in dense grass or other ground cover on or near a riverbank or in flood debris. Old hamerkop nests or cliff ledges are also used occasionally on which to build a nest. The nest is a deep bowl with a diameter of around 220 mm and a central bowl that is some 87 mm deep. The nest usually consists of grass and is thickly lined with down and contour feathers. The laying time in South Africa is mainly from June to January and a clutch of 4 to 9 (mean: 5.9) oval and slightly glossy eggs with a cream to buffy yellow colour is laid at a time. Incubation lasts 28 to 32 days and only the female incubates the eggs. Newly hatched chicks are downy blackish above, with two pairs of yellow panels on the back and rump each. The chicks are fully feathered when they are 77 days old and moult to an adult pelage when 100 days old. Adult African black ducks moult twice a year from February to May and again from October to December. The life-span is unknown in the wild.

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean & P G Ryan 2005. Roberts – Birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp. 103 – 105.

article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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