Whistling duck

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Whistling ducks
Whistling duck flight02 - natures pics-edit1.jpg
Black-bellied whistling duck
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Dendrocygninae
Reichenbach, 1850
Genus: Dendrocygna
Swainson, 1837
Type species
Anas arcuata
Horsfield, 1824

The whistling ducks or tree ducks are a subfamily, Dendrocygninae, of the duck, goose and swan family of birds, Anatidae. They are not true ducks. In other taxonomic schemes, they are considered a separate family, Dendrocygnidae. Some taxonomists list only one genus, Dendrocygna, which contains eight living species, and one undescribed extinct species from Aitutaki of the Cook Islands, but other taxonomists also list the white-backed duck (Thalassornis leuconotus) under the subfamily.

Taxonomy and evolution[edit]

Whistling ducks were first described by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae in 1758: the black-bellied whistling duck (then Anas autumnalis) and the West Indian whistling duck (then Anas arborea).[1] In 1837, William John Swainson named the genus Dendrocygna to distinguish whistling ducks from the other waterfowl.[2] The type species was listed as the wandering whistling duck (D. arcuata), formerly named by Thomas Horsfield as Anas arcuata.[3]

Whistling duck taxonomy, including that of the entire infraorder Anseriformes, is complicated and disputed.[4] Under a traditional classification proposed by ornithologist Jean Théodore Delacour based on morphological and behavioral traits,[5][6] whistling ducks belong to the tribe Dendrocygnini under the family Anatidae and subfamily Anserinae.[6][7] Following the revisions by ornithologist Paul Johnsgard, Dendrocygnini includes the genus Thalassornis (the white-backed duck) under this system.[7][8]

In 1997, Bradley C. Livezey proposed that Dendrocygna were a separate lineage from Anserinae, placing it and its tribe in its own subfamily, Dendrocygninae. Alternatively Charles Sibley and Jon Edward Ahlquist recommended placing Dendrocygna in its own family, Dendrocygnidae, which includes the genus Thalassornis.[6][7]

Simplified Anseriformes phylogeny[9][10][11]

Anatinae (dabbling ducks)

Anserinae (swans and true geese)

Oxyurinae (stiff-tailed ducks and allies)

Dendrocygninae (whistling ducks)

Anseranatidae (magpie-geese)

Anhimidae (screamers)

Detailed Anatidae phylogeny[12]

other Anatidae

other Anatinae

all Anserinae

Oxyurinae, Nettapus, Malacorhynchus, Salvadorina

D. arcuata

D. javanica


D. bicolor

D. eytoni

D. arborea

D. guttata


D. autumnalis

D. viduata



Eight species of whistling duck are currently recognized in the genus Dendrocygna. However, Johnsgard considers the white-backed duck (Thalassornis leuconotus) from Africa and Madagascar to be distinct ninth species,[13] a view first proposed in 1960 and initially supported by behavioral similarities. Later, similarities in anatomy, duckling vocalizations, and feather proteins gave additional support.[8] Molecular analysis in 2009 also suggested that the white-backed duck was nested within the whistling duck clade.[12] In addition to the extant species, subfossil remains of an extinct, undescribed species have been found on Aitutaki of the Cook Islands.[14]

Scientific name Common name Authority Conservation status Image
D. arborea West Indian whistling duck Linnaeus, 1758 Status iucn3.1 VU.svg


West Indian Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna arborea) RWD2.jpg
D. arcuata Wandering whistling duck Horsfield, 1824 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Dendrocygna arcuata australis 4.jpg
D. autumnalis Black-bellied whistling duck Linnaeus, 1758 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Dendrocygna autumnalis, London Wetland Centre, UK - Diliff.jpg
D. bicolor Fulvous whistling duck Vieillot, 1816 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Dendrocygna bicolor, London Wetland Centre, UK - Diliff.jpg
D. eytoni Plumed whistling duck Eyton, 1838 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Sichelpfeifgans Dendrocygna eytoni 0505264.jpg
D. guttata Spotted whistling duck Schlegel, 1866 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Spotted Whistling Duck RWD2.jpg
D. javanica Lesser whistling duck Horsfield, 1821 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Lesser Whistling Duck RWD1.jpg
D. viduata White-faced whistling duck Linnaeus, 1766 Status iucn3.1 LC.svg

Least concern

Dendrocygna viduata upright.jpg


Whistling ducks are found in the tropics and subtropics. As their name implies, they have distinctive whistling calls.[citation needed]

The whistling ducks have long legs and necks, and are very gregarious, flying to and from night-time roosts in large flocks. Both sexes have the same plumage, and all have a hunched appearance and black underwings in flight.[citation needed]


Literature cited[edit]

  • Donne-Goussé, C.; Laudet, V.; Hänni, C. (2002). "A molecular phylogeny of anseriformes based on mitochondrial DNA analysis". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 23 (3): 339–356. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00019-2. PMID 12099792.
  • Eo, S.H.; Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P.; Carroll, J.P. (2009). "A phylogenetic supertree of the fowls (Galloanserae, Aves)" (PDF). Zoologica Scripta. 38 (5): 465–481. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2008.00382.x.
  • Eyton, T.C. (1838). A Monograph on the Anatidae Or Duck Tribe. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman. p. 183. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.51971.
  • Gonzalez, J.; Düttmann, H.; Wink, M. (2009). "Phylogenetic relationships based on two mitochondrial genes and hybridization patterns in Anatidae". Journal of Zoology. 279 (3): 310–318. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00622.x.
  • Johnsgard, P.A. (1965). "Tribe Dendrocygnini (Whistling Ducks)". Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 378.
  • Johnsgard, P.A. (2010a). "Whistling Ducks: Tribe Dendrocygnini". Waterfowl of North America, Revised Edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries. p. 575.
  • Johnsgard, P.A. (2010b). "Tribe Dendrocygnini (Whistling or Tree Ducks)". Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Lincoln: University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries. p. 404.
  • Linnaeus, C. (1758). Systema Naturæ (Tenth ed.). Stockholm, Sweden: Laurentius Salvius. p. 825.
  • Pereira, S.L.; Baker, A.J. (2009). "Waterfowl and gamefowl (Galloanserae)". In Hedges, S.B.; Kumar, S. (eds.). The Timetree of Life (PDF). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 576. ISBN 978-0-19-160898-8.
  • Steadman, D.W. (2006). Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Islands Birds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 594. ISBN 0-226-77142-3.
  • Swainson, W. (1837). On the Natural History and Classification of Birds. 2. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman. p. 398.

External links[edit]