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John James Audubon found the American Black Duck breeding on lakes along the Mississippi River as far up as the confluence with the Ohio River as well as in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Today this 23-inch-long bird with a 35-inch-wide wingspan’s breeding range is northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota, and all of northeast Canada. It winters from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio South to southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and southern Georgia.
It is a fairly common transient and winter resident in Kentucky, West of the Cumberland Plateau with maximum numbers being seen along the Ohio River in Henderson and Union counties, the Falls-of-the-Ohio in Jefferson County and in Pulaski County. However, this species is diminishing to the extent that it is on a watch list.
It is believed that its declining numbers are probably related to the lack of quality wetlands for nesting sites throughout its breeding range. They are also prone to hybridize with the more numerous Mallard, which helps to eliminate pure strains of the American Black Duck.
The female actually quacks like a hen Mallard, while the male has more of a short, weak and reedy type note. A good way to identify the American Black Duck is by the bold white under-wing’s strong contrasts with the dark coloration of the rest of this bird while in flight.
The bold purple/dark blue is absent on this photo, but will show up most of the time. Also look for a yellow beak with a black nail on the tip and bright red feet on the males.
On the females, look for a beak that appears to be light brown or a dull green with a dark nail on its tip. In addition, the American Black Duck is probably the wariest, quickest and most alert of all ducks.
The American Black Duck nests on dry ground that is slightly elevated above the level of a marsh in a slight hollow in the ground and is filled with dry grasses, leaves and available debris.
It is lined with olive-brown down from the female’s breast with more down being added as incubation advances. The outside diameter of the nest is 18 inches, with a depth of 3-to-4 inches. Occasionally this duck will even nest in a tree in an old hawk’s or crow’s nest.
The female lays eight to 10, sometimes six to 12 dull or creamy white to shades of pale green or buff eggs that are unmarked. It is impossible to distinguish these eggs from Mallard eggs without seeing the incubating female as she sits on the nest for 26 to 28 days.
So keep a sharp eye when you see flocks of ducks and more often than you might imagine, you just might see the American Black Duck in the great outdoors.
To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2015 Vireos and Warblers Calendar, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.