Lesser Whistling-ducks at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

on 14th July 2012

“Online photos of families of Lesser Whistling-ducks (Dendrocygna javanica) at the Singapore Botanic Gardens reminded me of a visit last Decemb%r, when some of the ducks frequenting the Eco-Lake displayed textbook courtship and copulatory behaviour. Some ducks invaded the open grassy edge to get scraps from picnickers.

“Another half a dozen or so birds kept to a cove on the farther side, a quieter bay loosely fringed by pandans on props and papyrus reeds. They paddled in a loose assembly, ducked for weed and surfaced with wet green strands around their bills and bodies. A few would make more prolonged dives, resurfacing in a mesh of filaments and oiled feathers; after regaining its composure and greeting its companions the duck would fluff itself up and whirl its wings to flush off the remaining droplets. The birds were mostly silent, save the barest hint of a whistle between buddies and the in-flight whirr of oncoming fowl.

“There was little to distinguish one lump of dark brown, chestnut and buff from another. But to these little beasts, every turn of head, dip of beak and nibbling of a feather was a message of intent, a motion of purpose. The ducks dabbed their bills into the water a little too often than necessary, suggesting that the gesture might be less an act of impulse than a signal to associates. One duck might also ape the preening actions of another, in a possible ritual of affirmation that precedes a mutual peck.

“With little warning, two individuals abruptly broke off from feeding and grooming to face off. Despite (or due to) the intrusion of a third party, a series of subtle head bobs soon led to a rapid swing by one duck as he mounted the other for but a couple of seconds before slipping off to tread water with breast raised in a triumphal step-dance. His mate followed suit with wings in half-lift, synchronised dunks and high frequency tail wags before each duck settled down once more with nonchalant flaps and throwaway twists of the head. There was little foreplay and no afterglow worth recounting, and most guests of the gardens probably overlooked the habits of these gregarious ducks which waste little time on prolonged courtship and ceremony.”

Marcus Ng LINK
6th July 2012
Paul A. Johnsgard (2010). Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World: Tribe Dendrocygnini (Whistling or Tree Ducks), available online at LINK.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

2 Responses

  1. Wow! Did not know that these ducks have such interesting behaviour before and after copulation.

    Noted that just before the action, the third duck also bob its head, but can only look on when the pair were in the act.

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