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The African black duck (Anas sparsa) is a species of waterfowl that belongs to the family Anatidae. This bird is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia and Tanzania in East Africa. The African black duck inhabits various freshwater habitats such as rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes.

The African black duck is a medium-sized bird with a distinctive appearance characterized by its dark plumage and yellow eyes. It has a wingspan of approximately 70 cm and an average weight of 800-1000 g. The male and female birds are similar in appearance but can be distinguished by their vocalizations during mating season.

Despite being widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, little is known about the behavior and ecology of this species due to limited research efforts. However, recent studies have shed light on some aspects of its life history, including breeding biology, migration patterns, feeding habits, and population trends.

African Black Duck, Kruger National Park

Taxonomy And Classification

The African black duck is a species of dabbling duck that belongs to the family Anatidae, which includes swans, geese and ducks.

The evolution history of this bird can be traced back to ancestral waterfowl living in the Late Cretaceous period around 90 million years ago.

The molecular genetics studies indicate that Anas sparsa has a close relationship with other African ducks like yellow-billed duck (Africanus undulatus), red-billed teal (Anas erythrorhyncha), and Hottentot teal (Anas hottentota).

Despite being classified as a separate species from the mallard, they share many similarities in their physical characteristics such as their size and coloration.

However, genetic analyses have revealed significant differences between these two species and support their separation into distinct groups within the genus Anas.

Overall, understanding the evolutionary history and molecular genetics of the African black duck provides valuable insights into its classification and relationships with other waterfowl species.

Distribution And Habitat

Having discussed the taxonomy and classification of the African black duck in the previous section, it is now time to delve into its distribution and habitat.

The geographic range of this species extends across sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia and down south to South Africa. It also occurs on Madagascar and some nearby Indian Ocean islands.

Within this range, the preferred habitat types include freshwater wetlands such as swamps, marshes, lakeshores, riversides, and floodplains. They may also be found in coastal areas such as estuaries or salt pans.

However, human activities such as dam construction or land-use change have led to a decrease in suitable habitats for these ducks. As a result, they can often be seen foraging in artificial water bodies like farm dams or even urban parks where there are still small patches of suitable vegetation nearby.

Overall, understanding the distribution and habitat preferences of the African black duck is crucial for conservation efforts aimed at preserving this important species that plays an integral role in maintaining healthy ecosystems within their respective regions.

Physical Characteristics

The African black duck is a medium-sized bird that measures around 55 to 65 centimeters in length and has a wingspan of approximately 90 to 100 centimeters.

They have dark brown or black feathers with purple or green iridescence on their heads, necks, and upperparts, while their underparts are lighter in coloration. The bill is yellowish-green, and the eyes are brown.

African black ducks can be found in various habitats such as wetlands, lakeshores, marshes, and riversides.

They also possess unique breeding biology where they form monogamous pairs during the breeding season and lay an average of eight to ten eggs per clutch in concealed nests near water bodies.

These birds exhibit parental care by incubating the eggs for about four weeks until hatching and taking care of the chicks until they are ready to leave the nest after two months.

Vocalizations And Mating Behavior

Breeding habits of African black ducks are largely influenced by the communication methods they use to attract mates. During breeding season, males often engage in a series of courtship displays including head bobbing and wing flapping while emitting vocalizations that vary between low-pitched quacks and high-pitched whistles. These calls can be heard from long distances away and serve as an important means for individuals to locate potential partners.

Females, on the other hand, tend to be more selective in choosing their mate based on factors such as body size and physical appearance. Once a pair has formed, both sexes will work together to construct a nest typically made out of grasses and feathers near water sources. The female lays anywhere from 6-12 eggs which she incubates for approximately 28 days until hatching occurs.

Overall, the vocalizations used during mating behavior play a crucial role in helping African black ducks find compatible mates and start successful families.

Life History And Ecology

The African black duck is known for its unique breeding patterns and feeding habits. Breeding occurs during the rainy season, typically between October and February. The ducks form monogamous pairs that remain together until their offspring fledge.

Nests are usually built on the ground near water sources or in dense vegetation. While incubating eggs, the female will leave the nest only briefly to feed before returning. Once hatched, ducklings follow their mother to nearby wetlands where they learn to swim and find food.

In terms of feeding habits, African black ducks consume a variety of aquatic plants, seeds, insects, crustaceans, and small fish. They often dive underwater to obtain their food but can also be seen dabbling at the surface of shallow waters.

During nesting season, male African black ducks may become more aggressive towards other males. Female African black ducks lay an average of 5–10 eggs per clutch. Juvenile African black ducks have brown plumage with dark spots.

These birds are commonly found in freshwater habitats such as marshes, swamps, streams, and ponds. Despite being called a “black” duck, this species actually has iridescent green feathers on its head that shine in sunlight.

In summary, the African black duck’s life history and ecology highlight fascinating aspects of their behavior. From their unique breeding patterns to diverse feeding habits, these birds demonstrate remarkable adaptability within their environment.

Conservation Status And Threats

The African black duck has been subject to population decline and hunting pressure, which puts it at risk of extinction. Human activities such as wetland degradation, land use change, and pollution have also contributed to this decline.

The species is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to these factors. Despite being protected under national legislation in some countries, effective conservation measures are still lacking.

It is crucial to implement stricter regulations on hunting and increase awareness about the importance of preserving wetlands where the ducks thrive. Furthermore, habitat restoration efforts must be made to ensure that suitable habitats are available for breeding and feeding.

With appropriate conservation strategies, there is hope for the African black duck’s survival in the long term.

African black duck photographed in South Africa.


The African black duck is a species of waterbird found in Southern Africa. It belongs to the family Anatidae and was initially classified as a subspecies of the mallard duck until molecular evidence indicated its distinctiveness.

The bird has distinctive physical characteristics that distinguish it from other ducks, such as its dark plumage and white wing patches.

African black ducks inhabit freshwater wetlands, rivers, and dams throughout their range. Although widespread across Southern Africa, they are vulnerable to habitat loss due to human activities such as agriculture and urbanization.

Despite this concern, little information exists on the population size or trends for this species. Further research is needed to understand more about these birds’ ecology and behavior so that effective conservation measures can be implemented.