Birds – Black Duck

(Anas obscura)


Length—22 to 23 inches; same size as the mallard.

Male and Female—Resembling the female mallard, but darker and without white anywhere except on the wing linings; violet blue patch or speculum on wings bordered by black—a fine white Iine on that of male only. General plumage dusky brown, not black, lighter underneath than on upper parts, the feathers edged with rusty brown. Top of head rich, dark ashy brown, slightly streaked with buff; sides of head and throat pale buff, thickly streaked with black. Female paler yellow. Bill greenish. Feet red.

Range—” Eastern North America, west to the Mississippi Valley, north to Labrador, breeding southward to the northern parts of the United States.”—A. O. U.

Season—Resident in the United States, where it nests; also winter resident, from September to May; most abundant in spring and autumn migrations.

In New England and along the Atlantic States, where the mallard is scarce, the black duck (which is not black but a dusky brown), replaces it in the salt-creeks and marshes as well as on the inland rivers, lakes, and ponds; and even the sea itself is sometimes sought as an asylum from the gunners. Not all river and pond ducks confine themselves to the habitats laid down for them in the books. Black ducks, when persistently hunted, frequently spend their days on the ocean, returning to their favorite lakes and marshes under cover of darkness—for they are exceedingly shy and wary—to feed upon the seeds of sedges, corn in the farmer’s fields, the roots and foliage of aquatic plants, and other vegetable diet, which is responsible for the delicious quality of their flesh, so eagerly sought after.

Brush-houses thatched with sedges, that are set up in the duck’s feeding-grounds by hunters, may not be distinguished from the growing plants in the twilight or early dawn ; wooden decoys easily deceive the inquisitive birds; live domestic ducks tied by the leg to the shore, though apparently free to swim at large, lure the wild ones near the gunners in ambush, and numerous other devices, long in vogue among men who spare themselves the fatigue of walking through the sedges to flush their victims, help pile the poultry stalls of our city markets just as soon as the law allows in autumn. In the early spring, when the law is still ” open ” and should be closed, housekeepers find eggs already well formed in this and other game birds brought to their kitchens. Of all the wild fowl that enter the United States, this duck, it is said, possesses the greatest economic value, which should be a sufficient reason, if no higher motive prompted, to give it the fullest protection. While the nesting season is from the last of April to the early part of June, the birds have mated many weeks before. They are the spring laws that need serious going over by our legislators.

So closely resembling the mallard in habits that an account of them need not be repeated here, the black duck is not so common in the interior nor in the south, for it was the Florida duck that early ornithologists confounded with this species, which, they claimed, had the phenomenal nesting range extending from Labrador to the Gulf. Illinois and New Jersey are as far south as its nests have been found. The black duck, that seems to have a more hardy constitution than many of its kin, stays around our larger ponds long after the ice has formed, and where springs keep open pools, it is not infrequently met with all through a mild winter.