Plumed whistling duck
Dendrocygna eytoni (Eyton, 1838)
Other names: grass whistling duck, plumed whistle duck, grass whistle duck, plumed tree-duck, Eyton’s whistling duck, Eyton’s tree-duck, whistler
Geographical variation: Nil
The plumed whistling-duck is one of two distinctive tree duck species common to northern and tropical Australia. It is the only whistling duck to have been observed in New Zealand, and is typically encountered in flocks. Tree ducks fly with their head lower than their back and with conspicuously trailing legs, and their noisy wingbeats making a whistling sound.
Whistling ducks stand erect and goose-like but are much smaller and slimmer than geese or shelducks. The plumed whistling-duck is predominantly pale fawn or buff with pale chestnut sides. It has very prominent, long and pale yellow flank feathers extending up almost onto the back. The bill is pink with dark freckles, and the legs and feet pale pink. The sexes are alike and of similar size.
Voice: plumed whistling-ducks give loud high-pitched whistles, and there is constant twittering within flocks.
Similar species: the plumed whistling-duck is distinguished from the wandering whistling-duck by its generally pale colouration (the wandering whistling-duck has dark back, legs and crown) and its prominent pale yellow lanceolate flank feathers. Note that the wandering whistling-duck has yet to be recorded in New Zealand and so is not featured on New Zealand Birds Online.
Plumed whistling-ducks occur across northern Australia, throughout Queensland and into New South Wales, in the upper Darling River basin and Murray & Murrumbidgee catchments. Formerly considered of rare occurrence in New Zealand (approx. 8 times during the 20th century), small flocks have occurred at least 7 times since 2000. Most sightings have been of small flocks (maximum 14 birds) at the western edge of New Zealand, but birds have reached Hawke’s Bay (Anderson Park, Napier) and Chatham Island (2 different flocks of 3, both in 2011). The 3 Napier birds soon reduced to 2, one of which stayed until April 2021.
Plumed whistling-ducks are grassland grazers that feed much like a goose, on short grass swards. They will sometimes dabble in shallow water. They are not strongly associated with water, but tend to roost alongside water on bare ground. Roosting sites are often referred to as “camps”. They generally avoid coastal or tidal areas.
Plumed whistling-ducks are very common in northern Australia, with some population estimates reaching 1 million birds.
Nests are situated solitarily on the ground, usually in long grass. The 8-14 eggs are incubated by both sexes, for about 28 days. Both adults guard the ducklings until they fledge at about 56-65 days old.
Behaviour and ecology
Plumed whistling-ducks are highly gregarious and form large communal feeding and roosting flocks. However, adults appear to form long-term pair bonds, with partners remaining in constant contact within the flocks.
Checklist Committee (OSNZ). 2022. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand (Fifth edition). Ornithological Society of New Zealand Occasional Publication No. 1. Wellington, Ornithological Society of New Zealand.
Frith, H.J. 1977. Waterfowl in Australia. AH & AW Reed, Sydney.
Kear, J. (Ed.). 2005. Ducks, geese and swans. Vol 1. Oxford University Press, Oxford,UK.
Marchant, S.J.; Higgins, P. (eds) 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 1, ratites to ducks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.
Miskelly, C.M.; Crossland, A.C.; Sagar, P.M.; Saville, I.; Tennyson, A.J.D.; Bell, E.A. 2013. Vagrant and extra-limital bird records accepted by the OSNZ Records Appraisal Committee 2011-2012. Notornis 60:296-306.
Miskelly, C.M.; Crossland, A.C.; Sagar, P.M.; Saville, I.; Tennyson, A.J.D.; Bell, E.A. 2017. Vagrant and extra-limital records accepted by the Birds New Zealand Records Appraisal Committee 2015-2016. Notornis 64: 57-67.
Williams, M.J. 2013 [updated 2022]. Plumed whistling-duck. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
Plumed whistling duck
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates