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Habitat Ecology Information

What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #29 Pacific Black Duck

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#29 Pacific Black Duck
(Anas superciliosa)

No this is not the Australian version of Warner Brothers Daffy Duck (not this little Black Duck) but one of Australia’s most common and versatile species found throughout the country as well as throughout the Pacific region with the exception of the drier regions.

This species is closely related to the introduced Mallard and will interbreed with it. It can be distinguished by its characteristic head patterns, which are a dark brown line through the eye with a cream border above and below and a dark brown crown. The wing feathers have a glossy green patch associated with the secondary feathers whilst the rest of the duck is brown with the edges of the fathers being buff. The upper wings are the same as the body. In he urban situation they respond to free feeding and can become quite tame which can lead to problems of food dependency.

Being such a widely distributed species it is also a versatile species frequenting a large range of waterways from, lakes, ponds, dams and rivers to tidal mudflats and even the roadside drain and forest watercourse. Usually seen in pairs and small flocks they are quite happy to mingle with other species of duck.

The diet consist mainly of plant material but they will also supplement their diet with aquatic invertebrates, snails and crustaceans which they obtain by upturning themselves in the water and dabbling with their bill in the water and mud. They will also feed on land in damp conditions and on bread and seeds left out by residents.

As with many species breeding will coincide with an increase in the availability of food and water. The heavy rains that usually occur around late winter – early spring are the usual time in and around Melbourne. After the ritualized courtship displays which the female usually initiates, mating will occur.

Mating in Pacific Black Ducks coincides with availability of sufficient food and water, and often with the onset of heavy rains or when waterways are at their peaks. Courtship is accompanied by ritualised displays including preening. Once copulation the males’ role is limited and he doe not get heavily involved in the breeding and raising of the young. If seasonal conditions are favorable two broods may be raised.

© Habitat Ecology 2013