The Pacific Black Duck is September's bird of the month.
The Pacific Black Duck, usually just called the “Black Duck”, is probably the most familiar duck in the Parklands. Ironically this duck is not black, but mottled brown, with fawn edges to the feathers. The only black comes in the form of bold dark bands running from the base of its dark grey bill, across the cream coloured face and the crown of its head. It has a metallic green panel of feathers edged with black, on the upper wing, called a “speculum”, which can be clearly seen in flight and often glimpsed while swimming or roosting.
If you see an unusual looking Pacific Black Duck it is probably a hybrid. The Northern Mallard, widespread across the northern hemisphere, and introduced to Australia in the nineteenth century, is closely related to the Pacific Black Duck and can interbreed with them, leading to hybridization. These hybrids can be recognized by variations in plumage and with yellow instead of grey legs and feet.
The Pacific Back Duck is widespread, from Indonesia through Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. It is very adaptable and can be found from farm dams in the outback to rivers, lakes and ponds in parks throughout Australia. It can become quite comfortable around humans, particularly in urban settings where fed*, but can be less trusting in wild habitat where it has been more exposed to predators.
*The pond environment provides plenty of food for ducks to find on their own – so please resist the temptation to feed, simply pack your binoculars and camera and enjoy watching the birds. Learn more about caring for our wildlife at Centennial Parklands.
Pacific Black Ducks are “dabbling ducks”, they feed while swimming across the surface, or reaching down with the head and neck submerged and their body upended. They will also leave the water to graze across grasslands and lawns, particularly after rain. Their diet is mostly vegetarian, eating aquatic plants and stripping seeds, but they will take the occasional insect or mollusk. Their bills have comb-like edges called “pectin”, and using their tongue to force water from the bill, they strain out the collected food.
Pacific Black Ducks form monogamous pairs and usually breed from winter into spring when there is plenty of rain. Before mating they perform courtship displays, usually instigated by the female. They face each other, preen their feathers and flap their wings, and make repetitive bobbing motions with their heads. Following mating the male leaves the incubation and rearing of the ducklings to the female, but will accompany her when she leaves the nest to feed.
The nest is built either in a tree hollow, if available, or trampled down long grass or reeds. A large amount of feather down is placed in the nest to protect the eggs and keep them warm when the female has to leave the nest. She lays seven to twelve eggs and incubates them for about 30 days. The ducklings are able to walk and swim from hatching and are quickly led from the nest to water.
There is a high mortality rate with ducklings, predatory birds and eels taking them as they swim, while cats and foxes hunt them in the night. Pairs will breed twice a season, producing large clutches to ensure some survival.
In the Park:
Pacific Black Ducks are found in pairs or small flocks throughout the Park. They will gather at sites where they are often fed, but can be found feeding naturally in any pond, or across the playing fields and lawns, at times well away from water. They are often seen under Holm Oaks trying to collect acorn kernels.
While most species of duck in the Park do not make the familiar quacking call we associate with ducks, you will hear loud repeated quacks from time to time from the female Pacific Black Ducks.
This information was curated by a team of passionate Centennial Parklands volunteers and with the assistance of Volunteer Program and Asset staff. Find out more about our volunteer programs here.