The black duck is primarily an eastern species, ranging from Labrador and Newfoundland to Pennsylvania and North Carolina in the breeding and summer months, to the southern states, Mexico and Central America in the winter.
Theirs is a very interesting pattern of migration and flock concentrations as shown by annual charts made up of recovered legbands from birds either found dead or shot by hunters. Banding is an important phase of duck and duck habitat research and sportsmen are urged to return tags immediately with the needed information to whatever address is on the tag.
There are two species of black ducks and the scientists are still arguing the points of distinction. One is smaller than the other, but from that point on, there is not much of a noticeable difference. As birds of one species can vary as much as a pound or more, telling the difference is quite a proposition.
The black duck is not really black. The male and female are colored about the same; with light tan heads and necks speckled with darker brown-tipped feathers. The body colors are rich brown with a darker, almost purplish cast, and their breasts are slightly lighter in color. The wings support the blue-purple patch similar to the mallard in both male and female.
Their legs are a brilliant reddish-orange and so they are nicknamed "redlegs."
This species is quite similar to the mallard in breeding season, locations, feeding habits and migration along the coast. They are often found in company with them and the other pond or puddle ducks, particularly the gadwall, pintail and widgeon.
Blacks decoy readily and are easily lured to the gunner's blind as are the mallards by the proper use of a duck call, imitating their calling and talking sounds to bring them in to properly placed decoys of either mallard or black duck colors. They are quite often more wary than the mallard and are generally more adaptable to East Coast conditions. There are more blacks on the Eastern Seaboard than almost any other species, and most of them stay the year round unless the ice and snow force them into going farther south.
While not as pretty a bird as the mallard, their habits are well worth knowing because of their large supply and they offer a greater opportunity for watching throughout the year than almost any other species.
"Redlegs" generally weigh a bit more than most mallards and are considered as good as the mallard on the dinner table. Their natural food is the same as the mallard, although they tend to stick more closely to the natural foods rather than resort to corn and other field grains.
Along our two coasts, they tend to feed and breed in the salt marshes and inland waterways where brackish water is present. At times this is reflected in their taste, but it is never fishy as the diving ducks at their very best.
Since they breed over a wide range, it behooves the sportsman to try and provide areas where they can nest and feed in peace. Many thousands reside in the sanctuaries and parks. Much work is needed to increase as well as maintain the present wetlands where all ducks feed and breed. The young sportsman can do the most good by joining a rod and gun club and working on such projects locally.
The black is the traditional duck of the hunter. A fascinating side study would encompass the history of duck shooting in America from the days of the market hunters to the present day.
The gradual improvement of duck blinds and decoys is part of that history. Some decoys located in old homes or boat houses have become quite valuable as collector's items. Browse around old book stores and perhaps you will find old hunting prints of duck shooting. They make a substantial addition to your den or study.
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