For almost all of waterfowl hunters throughout the nation, the American black duck is a once-in-a-lifetime hen. A detailed cousin to the Mallard, the black duck will likely be eternally related to the Atlantic flyway. They are often present in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands, however these birds have a eager affinity for coastal salt marshes. Whereas the black duck is an east-coast icon, it additionally ranges westward to the Mississippi flyway.

Generally known as one of many wariest and hardest-to-kill of all of the puddle geese, hunters should have glorious concealment, good decoys, and a little bit of luck to reap a black duck. Whereas these birds might be discovered all alongside the complete japanese seaboard, the very best wintering populations vary from the salt marshes of Lengthy Island and New Jersey all the way down to the Carolinas. Right here’s all the pieces else you should know in an effort to determine, hunt, and prepare dinner the American black duck.

The American black duck has a darkish blue speculum with black borders. Mircea Costina/Adobe Inventory

Look and Names

The black duck is commonly mistaken for a hen mallard on the wing. However a more in-depth side-by-side comparability will rapidly reveal the black duck’s a lot darker chocolate-brown feathers. Additionally it is one of many few geese the place the hens and drakes are nearly an identical. Men and women each put on darkish coats of feathers and have grayish heads. The one method to inform the distinction between hens and drakes is by the colour of their payments—drakes have brilliant yellow payments, and hens have olive payments. Black geese seem particularly darkish in flight, however the underside of their wings are white—clearly seen to hunters when birds flare out of the decoys. Not like mallards, black geese have a darkish blue speculum with black borders.

Black geese are sometimes discovered combined in with flocks of mallards. In addition they make very related sounds to their mallard cousins. The hens quack, and the drakes have a excessive, quiet, nasal quack. Drakes even have a high-pitched whistle they reserve for breeding time.

Feeding Habits

Black geese are mostly related to salt marshes, however they stay inland, too, usually favoring out-of-the-way beaver ponds, wooded swamps, and marshy wetlands. They’re dabbling geese, tipping as much as feed on aquatic crops and invertebrates. Inland, they feed on pondweeds and sedges, and they’ll forage for seeds, berries, and even roots and leaves of some crops. They can even feed in dry agricultural fields on waste grains reminiscent of corn. On tidal marshes, black geese flip extra carnivorous, consuming mussels, clams, snails, and different crustaceans.

black duck on snow
Drake black geese might be recognized by their yellow invoice. Anne Richard/Adobe Inventory


Not like many different species of waterfowl, black geese don’t wait till late winter or early spring to begin pairing up. Within the fall, drakes will start to seek out hens. Courtship begins with head-bobbing and, if that goes properly, escalates to swimming, bumping, nipping, and chasing each on the water and within the air, with the drake because the aggressor. Black geese pair monogamously for the season, and typically, the identical hen and drake will pair yr after yr.

Black geese breed from the higher Mississippi River north to Manitoba after which east throughout Canada and america. In accordance with Geese Limitless, the very best breeding densities are present in Maine and Nova Scotia, the place they breed round contemporary and saltwater wetlands. Hens make a nest within the grass by scooping a melancholy within the floor. They often lay 6 to 14 eggs. The male defends the nest till incubation is properly alongside the way in which, then it wanders off and ultimately leaves the hen with the younger. As with all waterfowl, American black geese molt in the summertime and develop new feathers in time to stage for fall migrations.

Fall Migration

Nearly all of black geese are discovered within the Atlantic flyway, with some birds scattered throughout the Mississippi flyway. These birds migrate from the northern U.S. and Canada to the mid-Atlantic coast in america. The best wintering populations are present in coastal marshes between Lengthy Island and the Carolinas. Whereas these geese are able to longer migration flights, they’re hardy birds, and those who stay on the coasts the place the shifting salt water hardly ever freezes don’t should migrate as far. Inland black geese journey additional to seek out appropriate wintering grounds. In both case, they journey in small flocks of 20-30 birds as they migrate.

black duck in air
In flight, these cautious geese are extraordinarily darkish. Tony/Adobe Inventory

Conservation Considerations

Though nonetheless widespread, black geese are in a inhabitants decline. Between the Fifties and the Eighties, their numbers fell by fifty p.c, in keeping with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At present, numbers are secure however stay under the long-term common. This stabilization within the inhabitants allowed the Atlantic flyway day by day bag restrict to be elevated from one (1) to 2 (2) birds in 2018. This regulation change got here after 30 years of a one (1) hen day by day bag restrict. The Mississippi flyway additionally has a day by day black duck restrict of two (2) birds.

Black geese face most of the identical points as most waterfowl species, together with lack of wintering and breeding habitat, air pollution, and urbanization. Biologists have additionally decided that crossbreeding with mallards contributes to a decline in general black duck numbers.

Black Duck Searching

It’s a must to love black duck searching to focus on it as a result of limits are low, and constantly killing these birds is a number of work within the coastal marshes the place they’re historically pursued. I grew up searching the salt marshes of Lengthy Island’s south shore, the place the black duck is king. Searching these birds alongside the coast often requires grass boats or sneak containers, a dependable outboard motor, and an intricate understanding of the tides.

Hunters will time their shoots round falling tides, which expose the marsh banks with meals for the geese. Many occasions, the falling tide, whatever the time of day, will present essentially the most hen exercise and finest searching. Black geese often feed as singles, pairs, or small teams. Because the tide rises, geese will begin to go away the salt marsh and fly to freshwater ponds and creeks to loaf.

Getting arrange at half tide and searching by way of the drop will yield the most effective probability for a black duck restrict. Nevertheless, hunters should be cautious of getting caught within the marsh because the tide recedes. These birds had been historically gunned over small spreads of hand-carved cork decoys. These days, hunters nonetheless hunt over small spreads, however use far more fashionable designs, like these Avian X absolutely flocked decoys. Calling ought to be minimal on salt marsh hunts, particularly when birds are working in shut. Black geese have a repute for being extraordinarily cautious and troublesome to complete over the decoys. The slightest signal of motion or one thing misplaced can flare birds at distances that might shock you. A wonderful disguise is totally important to success.

In sure areas of the Northeast, it’s common to kill black geese in freshwater. Throughout New York’s early season, I’ll usually see and kill black geese in freshwater marshes and wetlands. In these situations, they’re usually combined in with flocks of mallards, and good identification abilities will assist differentiate the birds within the air. For freshwater hunts, I often throw out two Avian X black duck decoys combined in with my unfold of mallards and wooden geese. For salt marsh hunts, I run a rig of six to eight Avian X decoys with a pair of mallards set off to the facet.

hunter with a two-man limit of black ducks
Writer Ryan Chelius with a two-man restrict of black geese taken on the south shore of Lengthy Island. Jack Flatley


Black geese differ in style relying on the place they stay and what they’ve been consuming. Prepare dinner one which’s been dwelling in freshwater and consuming seeds or, even higher, agricultural waste grains, and also you gained’t have the ability to inform it other than a mallard. These inland birds might be plucked and roasted or cooked every other means you may put together a mallard. They’re scrumptious.

Birds taken on the coast, although, generally is a totally different story. If they’ve been dwelling on crustaceans and different small marine animals, they could not style pretty much as good. Any sturdy, fishy flavors will largely accumulate within the fats and pores and skin. Pores and skin your birds, trim off fats, and soak them in brine in a single day earlier than cooking. This may assist tame the salty style of those coastal birds.

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