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West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small and severely fragmented range within which it is hunted, and the area, extent and quality of remaining habitat is undergoing a continuing decline, with populations at some sites disappearing altogether. However, overall the population appears to be increasing, and a category change may be warranted in the near future.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

48-56 cm. Large, upright, long-necked brown duck with black-and-white markings on flanks. Adult deep brown, darker above with whitish abdomen and black markings on the flanks. Black bill. Immature, less well-marked than adult, black on flanks in streaks. Similar spp. Slightly smaller Fulvous Whistling-duck D. bicolor is more yellowish with a white stripe on side, and white uppertail-coverts. Voice Shrill chiriria whistle. Hints Best seen early morning or late evening.

Distribution and population
Dendrocygna arborea historically ranged throughout the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands (to UK), Cuba, Cayman Islands (to UK), Jamaica, Haiti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (to USA), Virgin Islands (to UK), Virgin Islands (to USA), St Kitts and Nevis (only an occasional visitor in the past and future records unlikely owing to habitat deterioration), Antigua and Barbuda, and Guadeloupe (to France). Breeding populations are known to exist in the Bahamas (at least 1,500 birds), Turks and Caicos, Cuba (at least 14,000, based on a survey of hunters [Acosta-Cruz and Mugica-Valdés in litt. 2006] which is said to have underestimated numbers [L. Mugica in litt. 2011], although it has also been robustly argued that the results are too optimistic [L. Sorenson in litt. 2012]), Cayman (800-1,200 and thought to be stable), Jamaica (500 and stable), Dominican Republic (six populations [Ottenwalder 1997]), Puerto Rico (100 and perhaps stable), and Antigua (500) and Barbuda (50) (Sorenson et al. 2004).

Population justification
A population estimate of 10,000-19,999 individuals is derived from L. G. Sorenson (in litt. 2007) and L. Mugica (in litt. 2007). This equates to 6,667-13,333 mature individuals, rounded here to 6,000-15,000 mature individuals. However, this should be revised upwards if recent estimates from Cuba (L. Mugica in litt. 2011) are confirmed.

Trend justification
This species's population is increasing at a moderate rate, owing to conservation efforts across the region (L. Sorenson in litt. 2012).

This secretive, non-migratory duck is crepuscular or nocturnal and generally considered site faithful, but it will wander in search of water and good habitat during periodic droughts (Staus 1998a, Prosper in litt 2005, Staus 2005, L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007). During the day, singles, pairs or flocks (up to 100) roost and possibly feed in mangroves, reeds and swampy areas (Sorenson et al. 2004, L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007). At dusk, birds fly to fresh, brackish, and salt ponds, lagoons, ephemeral wetlands, tidal flats and agricultural fields (rice and corn) to feed (usually in small flocks), returning to roost-sites just before dawn (Staus 1998a). Scrub and coppice are important nesting habitats; birds often nest on offshore cays (Staus 1998a, Prosper in litt 2005, L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007). The nest is usually in a cluster of palm fronds, a clump of bromeliads, on a branch, in a tree-cavity, or in a leaf-lined scrape on the ground (Staus 1998a,b; L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007). Breeding has been recorded in virtually all months, but peaks in the summer (Staus 1998b, Prosper in litt 2005, Staus 2005).

It has suffered from excessive and under-regulated hunting for subsistence (including eggs) and sport (Staus 1997, Staus 2005, L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007, 2012). Wetlands are a very limited habitat in the Caribbean, with continuing conversion primarily for development (Staus 1997, Prosper in litt 2005, L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007, 2012). More than 50% of remaining wetlands are seriously degraded by the cutting of mangroves and swamp-forest, pollution (chemical runoff from nearby agriculture, sewage and garbage), water mismanagement, and natural catastrophes such as droughts and hurricanes (Staus 1997, Staus 2005). Climate models predict a significant summer drying trend in the Caribbean (Neelin et al. 2006), and projected sea-level rise may threaten mangroves (L. Sorenson in litt. 2012), both suggesting that climate change could be a significant future threat to this species. Predation by introduced species is inadequately documented, but mongoose, racoons, rats, and feral cats and dogs are known to kill adults and young and eat eggs (Staus 1997, Staus 1998a).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. It is legally protected throughout much of its range, but law enforcement is inadequate (Staus 1997). Since 1997, the West Indian Whistling-duck Working Group of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds has conducted a region-wide public education and awareness programme that provides local teachers and educators with training and educational materials and works to raise awareness and appreciation of the value of local wetlands and wetland biodiversity (Sorenson et al. 2004). The project has also sponsored surveys and worked with decision-makers, community leaders and hunters to reduce poaching and encourage protection of local wetlands, especially via development of "Watchable Wildlife Ponds" - wetlands equipped with interpretive signs and viewing areas where local people, school groups, and tourists can easily observe whistling-ducks and other wildlife (Sorenson et al. 2004). There are several protected areas in the region but, in general, suitable habitats, especially wetlands, are under-represented and many degraded wetlands should be restored (L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007). There are plans to establish a re-introduced population on the Virgin Islands (to UK) (L. G. Sorenson in litt 2007).  Some captive breeding populations exist.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct extensive surveys to assess numbers and distribution in each country (Sorenson et al. 2004). Assist local authorities in establishing a long-term monitoring programme (Sorenson et al. 2004). Conserve and restore key sites (Sorenson et al. 2004). Establish legal protection in countries where that is not yet in place and enforce protection in others. Continue public education and awareness programmes (Sorenson et al. 2004) and develop captive breeding efforts.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.

Collar, N. J.; Gonzaga, L. P.; Krabbe, N.; Madroño Nieto, A.; Naranjo, L. G.; Parker, T. A.; Wege, D. C. 1992. Threatened birds of the Americas: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Michael R. Lubbock. The Toronto Paper: The State of Captive Waterfowl in the United States. Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center, Scotland Neck, North Carolina.

Neelin, J. D.; Münnich, M.; Su, H.; Meyerson, J. E.; Holloway, C. E. 2006. Tropical drying trends in global warming models and observations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103(16): 6110-6115.

Ottenwalder, J. A. 1997. Situación actual y conservación de la Yaguaza Antillana (Dendrocygna arborea) en la República Dominicana. Pitirre 10: 2-10.

Raffaele, H.; Wiley, J.; Garrido, O.; Keith, A.; Raffaele, J. 1998. Birds of the West Indies. Christopher Helm, London.

Sorenson, L. G. 1997. Update on the West Indian Whistling-duck and Wetlands Conservation Project. Pitirre 10: 108-109.

Sorenson, L. G.; Bradley, P.E.; Sutton, A.H. 2004. The West Indian Whistling-duck and Wetlands Conservation Project: a model for species and wetlands conservation and education. Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 17(Special issue): 72-80.

Staus, N. 2005. West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea. In: Kear, J. (ed.), Ducks, Geese and Swans, pp. 197-199. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Staus, N. L. 1997. West Indian Whistling-duck Action Plan.

Staus, N. L. 1998. Behaviour and natural history of the West Indian Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna arborea on Long Island, Bahamas. Wildfowl 49: 194-206.

Staus, N. L. 1998. Habitat use and home range of West Indian Whistling-Ducks. Journal of Wildlife Management 62: 171-178.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from the Threatened birds of the Americas: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 1992). Please note taxonomic treatment and IUCN Red List category may have changed since publication.

Detailed species account from the Threatened birds of the Americas: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 1992). Please note, taxonomic treatment and IUCN Red List category may have changed since publication.

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Recuento detallado de la especie tomado del libro Aves Amenazadas de las Americas, Libro Rojo de BirdLife International (BirdLife International 1992). Nota: la taxonomoía y la categoría de la Lista Roja de la UICN pudo haber cambiado desde esta publicación.

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Isherwood, I., Mahood, S., Taylor, J., Temple, H., Wege, D.

Mugica, L., Prosper, J., Sorenson, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Dendrocygna arborea. Downloaded from on 29/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

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Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - West Indian whistling-duck (Dendrocygna arborea) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size 6000-15000 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 102,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species