West Indian Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna arborea)

West Indian Whistling-Duck


The West Indian whistling duck (Dendrocygna arborea) is a whistling duck that breeds in the Caribbean. Alternative names are black-billed whistling duck and Cuban whistling duck. The West Indian whistling duck is the largest and darkest of the whistling ducks. With a length of 48 to 58 cm (19 to 23 in) and female weighs from 800 to 1,320 g (1.76 to 2.91 lb) and male weights from 760 to 1,240 g (1.68 to 2.73 lb), this species is about the size of a mallard. It has a long black bill, long head and longish legs. It has a pale foreneck and light brown face. The crown, back, breast and wings are dark brown to black, and the rest of the underparts are white with heavy black markings.


The West Indian whistling duck has suffered extensive hunting for its eggs and for sport. Wetlands are a very limited habitat in the Caribbean, with continuing conversion for development and agriculture. More than 50_ of remaining wetlands are seriously degraded by the cutting of mangroves and swamp-forest, pollution (especially over-use of pesticides1) and natural catastrophes such as droughts and hurricanes. Predation is inadequately documented but may be a factor.

Distribution And Habitat

The West Indian Whistling-Duck occurs through The Bahamas, Greater Antilles, the Virgin and Cayman Islands, Antigua, and Barbuda (Raffaele and others 1998). Nonetheless, it is uncommon to rare throughout most of its distribution range (Raffaele and others 1998). In Puerto Rico, it has been observed in ponds and lagoons at the municipalities of Cabo Rojo, Añasco, Yabucoa, Ceiba, Fajardo, and Humacao (Del Moral 2001, Lewis 2003, Silvestre 2003), as well as in the Caño Tiburones Natural Reserve, Cayures pond and Lagunas de Coloso in Aguada, and the Cucharillas Lagoon in Cataño (Bonilla and others 1992, Rodríguez-Mojica 2003). It also occurs on Culebra and Vieques, in the latter being an extremely rare, possible breeder (Gemmill 2015). This species habitat includes mangroves, swamps, lagoons, palm savannas (Oberle 2018, Raffaele and others 1998), and sometimes agricultural fields (Biaggi 1997). The atlas fieldwork yielded a total of 62 records within 21 hexagons or 4 percent of the 479 total hexagons (see map). Of the 21 hexagons where this species was found, breeding met the atlas definition of confirmed in 38 percent (eight) of the hexagons, probable in 24 percent (five), and possible in 14 percent (three), while the species was observed in 24 percent (five) of the hexagons but without evidence of breeding (see map). West Indian Whistling-Duck distribution. The map shows the highest breeding code by hexagon and overlaying the ecological life zones in Puerto Rico. Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding. 29West Indian Whistling-Duck/Chiriría Caribeña

West Indian Whistling-Duck Distribution

Breeding Habits

The West Indian Whistling-Ducks nest is made of dry leaves, twigs, and other loose vegetation, and is usually placed on a cluster of palm fronds or a tree cavity (Biaggi 1997, Raffaele and others 1998). Previously published reports indicate that breeding occurs throughout the year, although it seems to vary depending on rainfall (Raffaele and others 1998). Atlas results show that this species breeding season extends throughout the year, with the most evidence of breeding activity during August, and to a lesser extent in April, May, and December (see chart). Results show evidence of breeding activity for this species mostly in the lowlands within the subtropical moist forest life zone (88 percent of the hexagons) and less frequently within the subtropical dry forest life zone (13 percent of the hexagons) (see table and map).


The current population trend of the West Indian Whistling- Duck is described as increasing at a moderate rate, thanks to conservation efforts across its range (Levesque and Sorenson 2012). Some populations have suffered declines mostly due to habitat destruction, hunting, and introduced predators (Raffaele and others 1998). This species is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2016). In Puerto Rico, the West Indian Whistling- Duck is classified as critically endangered (PRDNER 2016) and has a protected habitat in land of about 16 percent or 61 km2 of the total area covered by the hexagons where evidence of breeding was found for this species (383 km2).