West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea


Justification of Red List Category
This species is precautionarily maintained 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 may be undergoing a continuing decline, with populations at some sites disappearing altogether. However present knowledge suggests that the species is now increasing in parts of its range owing, in part, to successful conservation action. Moreover the most recent assessment of the population on Cuba suggests that it may be much larger than was previously thought, and it may warrant downlisting in the near future.

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 more recent estimates from Cuba (L. Mugica in litt. 2011) are confirmed (a survey of hunters [Acosta-Cruz and Mugica-Valdés 2006]) estimated the Cuban population at c. 14,000 individuals with a further c. 6,000 individuals elsewhere in its range [D. Wege in litt. 2007]).

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

Distribution and population

This species 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; population on Little Cayman decreased sharply following hurricanes in 2007 and 2008, a very small population of c. 30 is present on Cayman Brac and c. 360-650 individuals on Grand Cayman mainly inhabiting privately-owned ponds/lakes [P. E. Bradley in litt. 2013]), Jamaica (500 and apparently declining at a number of key sites [A. Sutton in litt. 2014]), Dominican Republic (six populations [Ottenwalder 1997]), Puerto Rico (100 and perhaps stable), and Antigua (500) and Barbuda (50) (Sorenson et al. 2004), with the species first recorded nesting in Guadeloupe in 2008 (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).


The main threats to the species are loss of suitable wetland habitat, introduced predators and hunting. 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). Successful outreach activities by the West Indian Whistling Duck and Wetlands (WIWD) Working Group and the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) have reduced legal and illegal hunting of the species, however hunting does still occur, including legal hunting in some islands such as Guadeloupe (L. G. Sorenson in litt. 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). Habitat used by the species is threatened by a proposed port and logistics hub in Portland Bight Protected Area, Jamaica (L. Sorenson in litt. 2014, A. Sutton in litt. 2014). 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). 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). 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. 

Conservation actions

Conservation and Research 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). The first record of nesting on Guadeloupe was documented in 2008, probably due to an increasing population in neighbouring Antigua (L. Sorenson in litt. 2012). Some captive breeding populations exist.

Conservation and Research Actions ProposedConduct 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.


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.


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

Mugica, L., Prosper, J., Sorenson, L., Bradley, P., Levesque, A. & Sutton, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Dendrocygna arborea. Downloaded from on 09/12/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 09/12/2019.