Barry Kent MacKayArt by Barry Kent MacKay
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American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)


black duck
(Artwork - 103)
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

If you draw a line from north to south from the top of North America in the north, to the bottom, most of the region on the east side of that line, south of the treeline, is more or less occupied by American Black Ducks, either as a breeding species, especially in the northern half, or as a wintering bird, with a wide overlap zone where it both breeds and winters. But I mostly think of it as a species that nests in the boreal black spruce forests of northern Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

To the west of that imaginary line would be most of the historical native range of the extremely closely related Mallard (A. platyrhynchos), a species that tended to nest in marshes and sloughs in the prairie regions while the American Black Duck nested in forest ponds and bogs. The Mallard is also found across Eurasia, while the American Black Duck is strictly North American. But in modern times Mallards have moved east for various reasons, and now occupy much of the same region as the American Black Duck, although in forested parts of Labrador and adjoining Quebec, and again on the island of Newfoundland, I saw exclusively the blacks, not the Mallards.

The two species often hybridize, but not randomly. Here on the north shore of Lake Ontario I live in the middle of the “hybrid zone” and both species are very common. And yet while I do see hybrids, usually the Mallards seem to associate mostly with Mallards and the American Black Ducks with their own kind as well.

Female Mallards look superficially like American Black Ducks, being brown and mottled, but really they are a lot lighter, have orange beaks with a bit of brown mottling, whitish tail feathers and blue speculums (the iridescent patch on the wing, which is more purple in the American Black Duck) and the feet are more orange, being red or reddish in the American Black Duck. American Black Ducks are called “American” to distinguish them from the African Black Duck (Anas sparsa), which is quite different.

I have shown the birds on the east coast, where many winter, and there are two males, with yellow beaks, and one female, whose beak is more olive-green.

The painting is slightly smaller than life size, in acrylics on compressed hardboard.

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
See his website: http://barrykentmackay.ca/

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