Whistling Ducks Return to the Point

Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis), also known as pijije, chiriría or sirirí, are found from the southernmost U.S. to south-central South America. In Mexico, they confine themselves to narrow coastal regions.

As their Latin name implies, they are Tree Ducks, building their nests high above the ground; at the Point, they prefer the oil palms, where their eggs are safe from predators — except for tree-climbing boa constrictors, who have a penchant for duck eggs.

These odd ducks, with their long pink legs, large orange feet, cartoon-like whistling, and clumsy landings in the oil palm treetops, remind us of Daffy Duck. They spend their days in early summer feeding in the estuary, and come dusk they return to the Point in couples, flapping madly, flying very fast, circling their target tree a few times, often missing their landing, then disappearing for some moments to return to try again.  In the early part of their season at the Point, competition for preferred trees is intense.  One sees the ducks precariously landing in a popular tree, jumping and jostling, pushing one another till one falls off and another flies away. All this is accompanied by intense vocalizing, which subsides as trees are finally settled on, and, as night falls, competing territorial demands are ultimately satisfied without bloodshed.

The whistling commences again at dawn, as the ducks leave their perches to head to the estuary in tight, swift flights of three to ten birds.

The ducklings, offspring of monogamous parents, usually hatch in late summer, and are adorable.  They leap from their nest within 24 hours of hatching, and usually plunge to earth unharmed.  The parents then marshal their broods and march them, single file, in the tradition of Make Way for Ducklings, across the Point, down to the estuary, and into the mangrove swamp, where the hatchlings stay with their parents for up to two months.  They return to the Point as adults to serenade us.