Texas Waterfowl

Texas Waterfowl

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Texas Waterfowl by William P. Johnson, Mark W. Lockwood

In this beautifully illustrated guide, two practicing wildlife biologists describe the life histories of forty-five species of ducks, geese, and swans that occur in Texas. For common species and those that breed in the state, each account begins with an interesting fact (such as, “Red-breasted Mergansers have been clocked at over 80 mph, the fastest recorded flight speed for a duck . . .”) and provides information on Texas distribution and harvest, population status, diet, range and habitats, reproduction, and appearance.

Exquisite photographs, informative distribution maps, and a helpful source list accompany the species descriptions, and the book offers a glossary and full bibliography for those who want to explore the literature further.

With the degradation and disappearance of the inland and coastal habitats that these birds depend upon, the natural history of these waterfowl species provides a vital reminder of the interconnectedness and crucial importance of all wetlands.

Birders, biologists, landowners, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and all those interested in the health and preservation of our coastal and inland wetland resources will enjoy and learn from this book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603448079
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 01/31/2013
Series: W. L. Moody Jr. Natural History Series , #46
Edition description: Nature Guide
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,248,375
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

WILLIAM P. JOHNSON is a professional waterfowl and wetland biologist actively involved in research, habitat management, and wetland restoration on the Texas Upper Coast and in the Texas Panhandle. He has studied and written on the habits and habitats of waterfowl and wetland birds in the US and Canada. He lives in Canyon, Texas. MARK W. LOCKWOOD, based in Alpine, is a conservation biologist in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He is the recipient of the prestigious Ludlow Griscom Award from the American Birding Association and coauthor (with Brush Freeman) of The TOS Handbook of Texas Birds (Texas A&M University Press, 2004).

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Texas Waterfowl

By William P. Johnson, Mark W. Lockwood

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2013 William P. Johnson and Mark W. Lockwood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-820-8


Species Accounts


Dendrocygna autumnalis

When a female lays one or more eggs in the nest of another female (either the same species or a different species), it is known as nest parasitism. This phenomenon is common among waterfowl, but Wood Ducks and Redheads are renowned for it. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, however, hold the record for what is perhaps the most extraordinary nest. At least 17 different females laid eggs in a single nest. This clutch topped out at 101 eggs. Amazingly, 38 eggs hatched.


Breeding: Texas is host to the largest number of breeding Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in the United States. They are found in the South Texas Brush Country, Coastal Sand Plain, Coastal Prairies, Edwards Plateau, and Post Oak Savannah–Blackland Prairies. Occasional nesting occurs in the Rolling Plains and possibly other regions.

Migration and Winter: Most Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks depart during August, September, or October. However, some remain in the South Texas Brush Country during winter, and large roaming flocks occasionally occur in the Coastal Prairies. Spring migrants return to Texas in March and April.


Harvest estimates in Texas averaged 4,849 annually from 1999 to 2006. This was about two-thirds of the US harvest.


The longevity record for a wild Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is eight years, two months. It was banded as an adult at Laguna Atascosa NWR in Cameron County and recaptured on a nest (during research) at the Welder Wildlife Foundation in San Patricio County.


Although Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have long been present in South Texas, even hunted for markets, there is evidence to suggest that they largely disappeared during the early 1900s. However, they were again common in the Lower Rio Grande Valley by the 1950s. A northward expansion into Live Oak, San Patricio, Kleberg, and Brooks Counties occurred by the early 1960s. Range expansions into the rice-growing regions of the state occurred after seed rice treated with aldrin (an organochlorine insecticide) was banned in the mid-1970s. They were well established throughout the central and upper portions of the Coastal Prairies by the mid-1980s. The Breeding Bird Survey suggests their abundance increased between 1966 and 2007, which corresponds with the northward expansion of their range in Texas. There is no population estimate for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.


The diet of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks is mostly plant material. In Live Oak and San Patricio Counties, grain sorghum and bermuda grass were heavily consumed by breeding birds. In the Mexican state of Sinaloa, 97 percent of the diet of wintering birds was plant material; rice, corn, and wheat comprised about 75 percent of the foods consumed. Congregations of wintering birds often forage in agricultural fields.


Breeding: There are northern and southern subspecies of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. The southern subspecies breeds in the northern two-thirds of South America. The northern subspecies breeds in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona and has recently been documented nesting as far north as Oklahoma and as far east as South Carolina. It also breeds along the east and west coasts of Mexico and in Central America. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks readily use urban areas at all times of the year. Breeding pairs use stock ponds, abandoned gravel pits, shallow depressional wetlands, resacas, and lakes. They prefer shallow freshwater wetlands that contain floating plants (for example, water hyacinth), waterlilies, cattails, and dead trees. Wetlands they use often have thickets nearby. They nest in natural and artificial cavities (nest boxes). Upland nests are uncommon, although densities as high as six upland nests per acre may be found on islands. Upland nests may be located in herbaceous vegetation, on bare soil, and under prickly pear. Rarely, nests are found in chimneys and palm fronds.

Migration and Winter: Except for the northern limits of their range, their breeding and wintering ranges overlap. Likewise, wetlands used by migrating and wintering Blackbellied Whistling-Ducks are similar to those used by breeding ducks, although migrating and wintering birds use coastal wetlands, lagoons, mangrove swamps, and rivers to a greater degree. They prefer shallow water and often stand or walk while foraging. During the nonbreeding season they occasionally roam widely, showing up in places such as California and Ontario.


Pair Bonds: Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks pair in their first winter. They usually form lifelong pair bonds but will re-pair if their mates are lost or die. Divorce (splitting of pair bonds) has been documented. Pairs commonly use the same nest cavity in successive years.

Nesting: In Texas, they nest from April through September. Competition for cavities may occur during the nesting season; there have been cases in which they have had their nest cavities usurped by Wood Ducks and Muscovy Ducks. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks do not carry vegetation to the nest or add down. They lay eggs at a rate of 1 per day, and incubation begins in late laying. Their clutch size is approximately 13 eggs. Males and females incubate in alternating sessions that last approximately 24 hours. Their incubation period is about 28 days. Nest success for both cavity nests and upland nests is typically high. In a study that spanned the South Texas Brush Country, Coastal Sand Plain, and Coastal Prairies, nest success was approximately 30 percent in nest boxes. In Willacy County, success of ground nests was about 39 percent on islands. Most unsuccessful nesting attempts are a result of nest abandonment, loss of mates during incubation, and excessive nest parasitism. They renest at rates around 19 percent and will renest if their ducklings are lost. Up to three nesting attempts in one season and double brooding (two successful broods) have been documented. About 70 percent of nests are parasitized by other Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. They have also been documented to lay eggs in nests of other species.

Ducklings: Adults lead ducklings permanently away from the nest 18–24 hours after they hatch. Both parents care for young. Frequently, one parent leads ducklings while the other follows closely behind. Adults brood ducklings sporadically during their first 12 days. Adults give vocal cues to lead the ducklings away from predators and will feign injury to lead predators away from ducklings. The young fledge at 53–63 days; adults often remain with their young even after they are capable of flight. Ducklings exposed to saline and hypersaline conditions likely have lowered survival, as they are highly susceptible to sodium toxicity.


Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have a long neck and long legs, which gives them a gooselike appearance. They have one plumage year-round, and males and females are identical. They have a gray upper neck and head with a white eye ring. Their crown and hind neck are chestnut brown. The lower portions of their neck, breast, and back are rufous (rust-colored). Their belly, rump, and tail are black. Their folded wings appear olive to off-white. Their bill is reddish with a bluish tip. Adults have pink legs. During summer, females and males weigh approximately 1.9 and 1.8 pounds, respectively.


INTRODUCTION: Delnicki et al. 1976. TEXAS DISTRIBUTION: Bolen et al. 1964; Lobpries 1987; Lockwood and Freeman 2004. TEXAS HARVEST: Kruse 2007. LONGEVITY: Delnicki 1973; Clapp et al. 1982. POPULATION STATUS: Lobpries 1987; James and Thompson 2001; Brush 2005; Sauer et al. 2008. DIET: Bolen and Forsyth 1967; Kramer and Euliss 1986. RANGE AND HABITATS: Meanley and Meanley 1958; Bolen et al. 1964; Johnsgard 1978; Bellrose 1980; Bolen and Rylander 1983; Markum and Baldassarre 1989; Bergstrom 1999; James and Thompson 2001; Kamp and Loyd 2001; Harrigal and Cely 2004; Brush 2005; Edmonds and Stolley 2008. REPRODUCTION: Bolen et al. 1964; Bolen 1967, 1971a, 1971b; Bolen and Cain 1968; Cain 1968; Delnicki et al. 1976; Bolen and McCamant 1977; Bolen and Smith 1979; McCamant and Bolen 1979; Bellrose 1980; Bolen and Rylander 1983; Delnicki 1983; Heins 1984; O'Kelley 1987; Markum and Baldassarre 1989; James and Thompson 2001; Edmonds and Stolley 2008; Stolley et al. 2008. APPEARANCE: Bolen 1964; Bellrose 1980; James and Thompson 2001.


Dendrocygna bicolor

No species of waterfowl is as closely associated with agriculture—moreover, a particular crop—as Fulvous Whistling-Ducks are to rice production. Wherever rice is grown within their range, they use it heavily. They forage, nest, and raise their young in rice fields. There is even evidence that they prefer to nest in rice fields over natural habitats. Additionally, recent breeding range expansions are associated with their further colonization of rice-growing regions.


Breeding: Fulvous Whistling-Ducks breed in the South Texas Brush Country, Coastal Sand Plain, and Coastal Prairies. Nesting has also been documented in the Post Oak Savannah–Blackland Prairies.

Migration and Winter: The Texas population is migratory; most are gone by November. They are rare to locally common during winter within their breeding range. Spring migrants return in early to mid-March.


From 1999 to 2006, estimated US harvest (including Texas) of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks was less than one thousand annually.


There is no population estimate for Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. The Breeding Bird Survey suggests their abundance was stable to increasing from 1980 to 2007. Prior to that, their population experienced declines, which were likely associated with the use of aldrin-treated seed rice.


Seeds accounted for over 96 percent of the diet of adult Fulvous Whistling-Ducks collected in Louisiana rice fields during the nesting season; rice consumption was low (< 4 percent) early in the breeding season but increased (25 percent) during incubation. The most common seeds consumed were flatsedge, signalgrass, and beaksedge. Fulvous Whistling-Ducks are perceived as a nuisance because they occasionally use rice fields in large numbers during spring, about the time rice is planted. However, they consume seeds of undesirable plants (weeds), including "red rice," during spring.


Breeding: Fulvous Whistling-Ducks have an amazing distribution that includes North, Central, and South America; the Caribbean, Hawaii, Madagascar, India, and Sri Lanka; and portions of Africa and Burma. In the continental United States they primarily breed in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Breeding pairs in the United States use rice fields, shallow freshwater wetlands, freshwater marshes, and temporarily flooded pastures and prairies. They make upland nests and overwater nests. Most overwater nests are found in rice fields.

Migration and Winter: Although they are resident throughout much of the Americas, most Fulvous Whistling-Ducks that breed in the continental United States migrate to more southerly areas during winter. Migrants use rice fields and shallow freshwater marshes, particularly those with floating plants. In Mexico, wintering Fulvous Whistling-Ducks use river deltas, mangrove forests, brackish lagoons, freshwater marshes, lakes, and flooded grasslands.


Pair Bonds: Solid information is not available concerning pairing chronology or the type of pair bonds formed (that is, seasonal or long-term). Nesting: In Louisiana, Fulvous Whistling-Ducks nest from April through August, but in South America nesting is concurrent with rainy seasons. They may line nest bowls with vegetation that comes from beyond the immediate vicinity of the nest. They do not add down to the nest. They lay eggs at a rate of 1 per day, and their clutch size is 9–14 eggs. Both males and females incubate. Their incubation period is 24–25 days. Upland nesting pairs spend about 97 percent of their time incubating, and overwater nesting pairs spend about 89 percent of their time incubating. In San Patricio County, over 50 percent of nests located in nonagricultural habitats were successful. Renesting is likely. They frequently parasitize the nests of other Fulvous Whistling-Ducks.

Ducklings: Hatching is largely synchronous, and ducklings permanently depart the nest the morning after they hatch. Both parents brood ducklings after they leave the nest. Adults will feign injury in order to lead predators away from ducklings, and they regularly lead ducklings overland, particularly in response to dewatering of rice fields. Ducklings are capable of flight at about 63 days.


The long neck and legs of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks give them a gooselike appearance. Males and females are identical and have one plumage year-round. At a distance they have a tawny brown appearance that is darker above than below. They have a fulvous-colored head, breast, and belly. Their chin is pale white. Their back is brown with fulvous barring, and their tail and wings are blackish brown. They have buffy yellow stripes across their flanks. Their bill is slaty gray, and they have blue legs. Their weight fluctuates seasonally. During the breeding season males and females average 1.7 and 1.6 pounds, respectively.


INTRODUCTION: Carroll 1932; Bolen and Rylander 1983; Peris et al. 1998; Hohman and Lee 2001. TEXAS DISTRIBUTION: Flickinger et al. 1977; Benson and Arnold 2003; Lockwood and Freeman 2004. TEXAS HARVEST: Kruse 2007. POPULATION STATUS: Flickinger et al. 1977; Lobpries 1987; Peris et al. 1998; Hohman and Lee 2001; Sauer et al. 2008. DIET: Mugica Valdes 1993; Hohman et al. 1996; Hohman and Lee 2001. RANGE AND HABITATS: Meanley and Meanley 1959; Zwank et al. 1988; Hohman and Lee 2001. REPRODUCTION: Cottam and Glazener 1959; Meanley and Meanley 1959; Flickinger 1975; Hohman and Lee 2001; Pierluissi 2006. APPEARANCE: Johnsgard 1975; Gooders and Boyer 1986; Hohman and Lee 2001.


Anser albifrons

Parents and young of most North American geese remain together during their first winter and into spring. However, in Greater White-fronted Geese, family members may continue to associate with one another well beyond their first winter. In California and Oregon, 39 percent of two-year-old geese (second winter) and 38 percent of three-year-old and older geese continued to associate with their parents during winter. Interestingly, two-year-old and three-year-old siblings also associated with each other on occasion, even in the absence of parents.


Breeding: Greater White-fronted Geese do not breed in Texas.

Migration: Greater White-fronted Geese are common in the central portion of Texas during migration. They are rare to uncommon in the remainder of the state. Fall migrants passing through the Rolling Plains and Post Oak Savannah–Blackland Prairies peak in late October or November, and spring migrants peak in February or early March. Statewide, fall migrants typically appear in late September, and spring migrants may linger into early April.

Winter: Traditionally, they wintered almost exclusively in coastal marshes, although they are now commonly found inland. From 2001 to 2008 they averaged 220,000 during the Texas Mid-winter Waterfowl Survey (TPWD unpublished). They are most common in the Coastal Prairies and South Texas Brush Country (TPWD unpublished), and they are locally abundant in the Rolling Plains and Post Oak Savannah—Blackland Prairies. They are rare to uncommon in the rest of the state.


From 1999 to 2006, harvest of Greater White-fronted Geese in Texas averaged 88,291 annually. This was about 36 percent of their annual US harvest.


The North American Waterfowl Management Plan's population goal for Greater White-fronted Geese is 910,000. The goal for the population that winters in Texas, the Midcontinent Population, is 600,000. In 2011 this population averaged 709,800, and it has a stable trend.


Greater White-fronted Geese consume vegetation year-round. Plants consumed in Alaska during the breeding season include arrow grass (bulbs) and pendant grass (shoots, roots). Berries, seeds, and sedges are also consumed during the breeding season. In Sinaloa, common foods included alkali-bulrush, barnyard grass, soybeans, and wheat. Important foods in Texas likely include winter wheat, sorghum, corn, and rice. In Nebraska, corn and winter wheat accounted for 90 percent and 9 percent, respectively, of the foods consumed during spring migration.


Excerpted from Texas Waterfowl by William P. Johnson, Mark W. Lockwood. Copyright © 2013 William P. Johnson and Mark W. Lockwood. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Abbreviations and Map Key,
Species Accounts,
Tree Ducks (Whistling-Ducks),
Perching Ducks,
Dabbling Ducks,
Diving Ducks,
Sea Ducks,
Stiff-tailed Ducks,
Scientific Names of Animals and Plants Occurring in the Text,

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