What kinds of ducks can you find in South Africa?
Who doesn’t love ducks? Head to almost any water habitat, and you are likely to see at least a few swimming around.
The ducks featured below are the most common and likely to be observed in South Africa. In reality, the complete list of ducks that can be seen is even larger!
16 DUCKS That Live in South Africa:
#1. Egyptian Goose
- Alopochen aegyptiaca
- Adults are 63–73 cm (25–29 in) long.
- They have long pink legs and a pink bill. Their bodies are light brown with brown wings tipped in green and white. They have a dark brown patch over each eye.
Despite its confusing name, the Egyptian Goose is considered a type of duck in South Africa!
Egyptian Geese are closely related to shelducks. They prefer meadows, agricultural fields, and grasslands near permanent bodies of water. Their standard meal is grass sprouts and grain, but they won’t say no to a small insect, frog, or worm. Their long, pink legs allow them to wade into relatively deep water for something to eat.
Although you may have trouble spotting this duck in its thickly vegetated habitat, you probably won’t have a hard time hearing it. Males of the species get loud and aggressive during their mating season, constantly making loud, obnoxious honking noises.
The name “Egyptian Goose” comes from the heavy, lumbering way it flies, which more closely resembles a goose than a duck. But whichever name they go by, this fascinating duck is one you should be sure to look for in South Africa!
#2. Yellow-billed Duck
- Anas undulata
- Their coloring is mostly grey with a dark grey head and bright yellow bill. The speculum, a patch of color on the lower wing, varies from deep blue to green.
- Males produce a teal-like whistle.
- Females make a mallard-like quack.
Yellow-billed Ducks prefer habitats with calm water in South Africa.
Look for these birds near lakes, streams, swamps, and marshes. This species can be found in its habitat year-round because it doesn’t migrate.
The Yellow-billed Duck is well known for its elaborate mating ritual. Watching the male wooing the female is particularly entertaining; the potential mates put on a soap-opera-worthy show! You might witness strange calls, fighting, synchronized swimming, preening, and acrobatic flight. And this is all before the pair even have their babies!
Once courting is over, the female nests in a slightly indented hole in the ground, placed near the water for safety. The female lays between two and ten eggs. Then, she cares for the chicks for about three weeks after they hatch. Once the chicks can fly, they go off on their own.
#3. Spur-winged Goose
- Plectropterus gambensis
- Adults are 75–115 cm (30–45 in) long.
- Their coloring is predominantly black, with white patched wings, a greenish/bronze sheen, and a white face. Their legs and bill are bright pink to red.
- Males are larger than females and have a larger red facial patch.
- Females are very quiet, smaller, and have less red on the face.
Despite its name, this waterbird is technically not a goose (or a duck)!
The Spur-winged Goose is closely related to both ducks and geese in South Africa, but it has adapted so well to its environment that it’s different from both of them! Look for these birds near open grasslands with seasonal pools, lakes, swamps, and rivers.
One of the most fascinating adaptations this waterbird has relates to its diet. The Spur-winged Goose eats blister beetles, which contain a toxin known as Cantharidin, an odorless poison that can kill humans and other mammals. These clever birds store the toxin in their flesh, and unsuspecting animals or people can be poisoned by eating them, even after being cooked! You should avoid Spur-winged Goose meat for this reason.
Despite being common in the wetlands of South Africa, Spur-winged Geese are threatened by human development for housing and agriculture. Because they need water in their habitat, irrigation systems that divert their water supply are particularly harmful.
#4. White-faced Whistling-Duck
- Dendrocygna viduata
- Adults average about 40 cm (16 in) long.
- They have long black necks and heads, gray bills, a long head with dark brown wings, and a white face.
- Both sexes have the same coloring and size.
Look for these ducks in South Africa traveling in gigantic flocks!
White-faced Whistling Ducks are extremely social and travel in groups of thousands of birds. Just before sunset, the flock descends on a lake or pond, and as the name indicates, it does not happen quietly. You can identify this duck by its three-note whistling call, which announces its arrival long before you can see it.
Look for these ducks near lakes, flooded plains, rivers, and wetlands where the flock can stay safe in numbers and feed on seeds, grass, and aquatic invertebrates. They dive underwater from the surface to find food and mostly feed at night.
When it is time for the White-faced Whistling Duck to mate, both the male and female preen to prepare themselves. It’s like getting ready for date night! After mating, the female lays between 6 and 12 eggs in a nest, but they aren’t picky about the nest’s location. They use stick platforms, holes in the ground, or even hollow trees! Female ducks care for their chicks until they can fly.
#5. Cape Shoveler
- Spatula smithii
- Adults are 51–53 cm (20-21 in) long.
- They have orange legs and a grey-brown plumage with light brown speckles.
- Males’ heads are paler, and their forewings are light blue. Their call sounds like a sharp “cawick.”
- Females have grey forewings and make a quacking sound.
Look for this duck in marshes and wet grasslands in South Africa.
The Cape Shoveler is a dabbling duck, which means it feeds from the water’s surface in vegetation. These ducks feed day and night on seeds and plant stems, but insects, snails, mollusks, amphibian larvae, and crustaceans also comprise a large portion of their diet.
It’s common to see the Cape Shoveler in large groups of up to 600 ducks. They’re especially gregarious during their yearly molt because they can’t fly when they lose their feathers. Instead, they stay on or near the water and stick together for protection.
Although they’re relatively silent, male and female Cape Shovelers do make some sounds during the mating season. Males make “rarr” and “cawick” noises, while females emit a quiet “quack.”
#6. Red-billed Teal
- Anas erythrorhyncha
- Adults are 43–48 cm (17–19 in) long.
- They have a red bill and a dark brown body. Their heads are white on the cheeks, with a black stripe over the eyes and top of the head.
- Both sexes have the same physical characteristics.
The Red-Billed Teal is a dabbling duck in South Africa that prefers natural and artificial dams. These ducks are abundant, especially in wetlands with grassy areas with nearby water. They spend most of the day on the water and only go on land at night to feed. As omnivores, their diet consists of plant food, insects, snails, and worms.
Unlike diving ducks, dabbling ducks get most of their food from land or the water’s surface. They don’t dive or fully submerge. So you’re much more likely to see them floating on the surface or walking near the water’s edge.
#7. Cape Teal
- Anas capensis
- Adults are 44–46 cm (17-18 in) long.
- Their coloring is dappled gray with a brown back and pink on the bill. They have a green speculum (patch of colored feathers on the wing).
- Both sexes look similar.
This duck is right at home in South Africa in artificial waterways!
The Cape Teal, also known as the Cape Widgeon, prefers brackish lakes, farm dams, tidal mudflats, and wastewater. They’re great swimmers and dive underwater to catch their prey or to feed on aquatic plants. Besides plant matter, the Cape Teal often feeds on crustaceans, invertebrates, and amphibians.
Cape Teals are a common site along the coastline during the breeding season. As part of the mating ritual, the male singles out a female to mate with, and the two have an exclusive relationship during the season, but they don’t mate for life.
After mating, the female makes a suitable nest near the shore by digging a hole and lining it with plant leaves and feathers. The female Cape Teal stays with her eggs for nearly the entire incubation period. The eggs are only unattended when the female leaves for an hour or two to preen and bathe. Once the chicks have hatched and can fly independently, the mother leaves them to fend for themselves.
#8. South African Shelduck
- Tadorna cana
- Adults average 64 cm (25 in) long.
- They have reddish bodies with white, black, and green wings.
- Males have a uniform gray head. Their call is a loud honk.
- Females’ heads vary in color, but they always have a white patch on their faces. They produce a loud, sharp “hark” noise.
Look for these large ducks in artificial reservoirs, freshwater lakes, and brackish pools in South Africa.
They are sometimes considered a nuisance because, besides feeding in natural grassland, they love to raid local farmers’ crops. These ducks aren’t picky, either! They feed on seeds, maize, peanuts, sunflower seeds, potatoes, figs, and rice. Unfortunately, this can lead to some farmers harming or killing the ducks to protect their crops.
The Cape Shelduck molts each year before the breeding season, and during the molt, this species can’t fly. They use reservoirs, deep freshwater lakes, and dense swamps to stay safe and ensure they have adequate food nearby.
Outside of the breeding season, this is a particularly sociable bird that spends most of the year with a large flock. During the breeding season, the male seeks a suitable female to pair with, and they separate from the flock to mate. After mating, the female makes a nest and lays between 7 and 15 eggs, which hatch after about 30 days.
#9. African Black Duck
- Anas sparsa
- Adults are 48–57 cm (19–22 in) long.
- Their coloring is black with prominent white markings on their backs, orange feet and legs, and dark bills. They have purplish-blue speculums that are visible during flight.
- Males are generally larger than females.
African Black Ducks are closely related to another species in Africa, the Mallard.
Unlike Mallards and other ducks, African Black Ducks are shy and somewhat territorial. They prefer to stay in pairs or very small flocks, so you can’t expect to see large groupings of these waterbirds.
Interestingly, these ducks seem to have a sixth sense about where to build their nests. They’re able to keep their eggs as close to the water as possible without being in danger of flooding. They always make their nests on the ground.
#10. Southern Pochard
- Netta erythrophthalma
- Adults are about 51 cm (20 in) long.
- Their coloring is dark brown to glossy black with white markings.
- Males are largely black with a gray bill and chestnut-colored wings and heads. In the sun, their black feathers can appear green.
- Females have a white patch underneath the eyes.
This is one of the most beautiful ducks in South Africa!
The Southern Pochard prefers to spend its day near deep freshwater lakes. It feels at home in deep water and generally avoids shallow water, rivers, and temporary ponds.
If you spend a lot of time observing this species, you might be concerned by how long they dive to find food! They’re exceptionally comfortable in the water and spend long periods underwater. The Southern Pochard eats aquatic plants, fish, crabs, pupae, larvae, and plant material.
They’re visible in big groups, but like most water birds, they’re known for their monogamous behavior. The male sets out to find a suitable female and attracts her with an elaborate courtship display, including preening, unique calls, and head bobbing.
After mating, the female Southern Pochard lays 4 to 15 eggs. After the young ones hatch, mom takes them for their first outing on the water, where they instinctively swim, dive, and feed. The female protects the youngsters for another 49 to 65 days until they can fly independently.
#11. Knob-billed Duck
- Sarkidiornis melanotos
- Adults are 56-76 cm (22-30 in) long.
- Their head and neck are white and covered in dark, freckle-like spots. They have a white underside, black bill and legs, and gray sides. The tops of their wings and back are covered in glossy-black feathers that shine greenish-blue in the sun.
- Males are significantly larger than females, with a bulky black knob on their bills.
The Knob-billed Duck is the largest duck in South Africa!
It’s also one of the largest in the world. The bulky knob on its bill makes this duck easy to identify, but that’s a trait that only males have. You’ll find the African Knob-billed duck in open savannas near lakes and large rivers.
Although their diet is mostly aquatic vegetation, these ducks also feed on seeds and invertebrates. Additionally, the Knob-billed Duck is a skillful hunter, and despite its size, it is known to dive underwater to seek out small fish agilely.
Like some other duck species, Knob-billed Ducks breed according to the seasons. They always wait for heavy rains, and males begin to court females once the rainy season is underway.
Males often breed with two females at a time and up to five females during the breeding season. Although the male breeds with multiple females, he is extremely protective and protects both the females and the hatchlings.
#12. African Pygmy-Goose
- Nettapus auritus
- Adults are about 30 cm (12 in) long.
- They have short gray legs, stubby beaks, chestnut-colored feathers, and white bellies.
- Males have white faces, green cheeks, and a yellow bill with a black tip.
- Females have a dull greyish face, a green patch on the head, and a dark brown stripe over the eyes.
The African Pygmy Goose is the smallest duck in South Africa!
And, before you ask, that’s not a typo – this “goose” is actually a duck! Its common name comes from the shape of its beak, which looks more like a goose.
These small waterbirds only grow up to 30 cm (12 in) long. Look for them in marshes, shallow lakes, coastal lagoons, and slow-flowing rivers. These ducks love to dive underwater and feed on waterlilies and other aquatic vegetation.
Similar to other aquatic birds, the African Pygmy Goose reproduces either during or after the rainy season. The male and female form a close relationship that often lasts for multiple years.
#13. Blue-billed Teal
- Spatula hottentota
- Adults are 33–35 cm (13-14 in) long.
- Their coloring is mottled tan and dark brown. They have grey legs, blue bills, a green wing speculum, and a black streak on the top of the head.
- Males have brown crowns and pale faces.
- Females have nearly black crowns, but their wings lack the glossy color found in the males.
You’re unlikely to misidentify this duck in South Africa!
The Blue-billed Teal is best known for its namesake blue-gray beak, which is usually brighter in males but also visible in females. This species frequents swamps, marshes, lakes, and ponds. Interestingly, they’re often found in rice paddies, where they feed on seeds, plants, fruit, and aquatic invertebrates disturbed by cattle.
Blue-billed Teals are a shy and reclusive species. They might flock in small numbers but never more than ten or so, and mostly, they restrict themselves to living in pairs. They’re most comfortable sleeping on the water but will rest on land if the environment is safe.
The breeding habits of this duck are a bit unusual compared to others. For example, instead of the male approaching a female, the female entices the male to attract him. If the male is interested, he responds by flapping his wings and burping.
#14. Fulvous Whistling-Duck
- Dendrocygna bicolor
- Adults are 45–53 cm (18–21 in) long.
- Their coloring is chestnut over the head, chest, and undersides, with black wings and backs. They have a white patch on the throat and lavender-gray feet and bills.
- Females are smaller, and their colors are slightly duller.
The Fulvous Whistling Duck inhabits swamps, lowland marches, and even flat country, but it avoids wooded areas in South Africa. This species is an herbivore, mostly feeding on seeds, leaf shoots, bulbs, buds, and aquatic plants.
They show remarkable loyalty to their partners, and the male and female are often monogamous for life. Fulvous Whistling Ducks often act like a human married couple, and the male and female share the incubation and childrearing responsibilities. The female lays about 10 eggs, and surprisingly, the male spends the most time in the nest, protecting and incubating them.
Once the grey ducklings hatch, the parents immediately expose them to the water. They tend to them and stay close by until they fledge, which happens after about nine weeks. To protect the youngsters, the duck acts out a broken wing display to lure predators away!
#15. White-backed Duck
- Thalassornis leuconotus
- Adults are 38-40 cm (15-16 in) long.
- Their coloring is mottled brown and black all over the body and face. They have black bills with yellow blotches and a white patch at the base.
- Both sexes look alike.
Look for this duck in shallow lakes and ponds in South Africa.
The White-backed Duck is well-adapted for diving. They generally avoid open water and prefer shallow water with lots of vegetation, where they feed on seeds, grass, and aquatic invertebrates at night.
The male and female have a close breeding relationship, and after mating, the male helps with all the chores around the nest. They work together to build the nest out of plant material and line it with aquatic grass. Usually, the nests are constructed to drift on the water between reeds, but sometimes, these ducks place them on the ground close to the water.
Although unusual for ducks and waterbirds, White-backed Ducks breed throughout the year. While they are nesting and hatching, the male protects the female and the chicks. After the youngsters hatch, both parents stay with them until they can fly independently and leave the nest.
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Adults are 50–65 cm (20–26 in) long.
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rear with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, most visible when standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are often seen in South Africa living around people! Because they are so comfortable around humans, these adaptable ducks are widespread around the world.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but, instead, make a raspy call.
Check out these guides to other animals found in South Africa!
Which of these ducks in South Africa have you seen before?
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