Discover… Blue-billed Ducks
Blue-billed Ducks are an endangered species with habitat destruction and modification contributing to their endangered status. Also known as the ‘Stiff Tail’ and ‘Spine Tail’ duck both males and females have lovely fanned tail feathers, which play a key role in making them the best diving ducks on the water.
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
Male and female Blue-billed Ducks could not be more different. From beak to tip, females are almost entirely dark grey, apart from some brown mottled lines that run lightly over their feathers. On the contrary, males have a sky-blue bill, black head and shiny, rust-coloured bodies.
And just to make things even more confusing, like females, the non-breeding males don’t have a blue bill at all. You’ll need to bring your glasses along when discovering the Blue-billed Duck!
Running on water
Blue-billed Ducks prefer to stick firmly in the water. Unlike their cousins, the Australian Shelduck, they are excellent swimmers and are happiest in deep, open waters. When they do venture onto land, they have a funny, awkward waddle that looks a lot like a penguin’s gait making them much more graceful in the water.
If forced to fly, they will actually run their feet against the water, beating their wings superfast as they propel themselves like a rocket on a gradual incline upwards.
The diving duck
Blue-billed Ducks’ specialty is diving; diving for food, diving for protection and, of course, diving for fun! They have a very specific diving technique, rolling their bodies in a wave to catapult themselves under water, with their fanned tail the last thing to disappear from the surface.
They stay under water for an impressive 30 seconds per dive.
A sophisticated palette
The water is where Blue-billed Ducks feel the safest and most confident. It’s also where the yummiest food is to be found, which is very important to these ducks who are real foodies. They will snack on a diverse range of treats, from insects like dragonflies and water beetles, to the seeds and leaves on aquatic fruits and plants.
A different kind of family
In a departure from the behaviour of most native ducks, the Blue-billed Duck is polyamorous, and their breeding pair bonds are short-term. Pairs will stay together just long enough for eggs to be laid, and then the female will look after the ducklings for about five weeks until they are ready to venture out on their own.
Quiet as a mouse
Blue-Billed Ducks are mainly silent, rarely quacking to communicate. As a duck discoverer, this makes your job tricky as their endangered status means they are even more challenging to find. However, their love of deep, open water spaces means you are most likely to find these ducks in artificial wetlands or treatment plants like the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee.