Another bird of which sightings come highly regarded in South Africa is the White-backed Duck and I was very excited to finally catch sight of them during my recent trip to St. Lucia in Kwazulu-Natal.
A nomadic diving duck that feeds mainly on submerged plant material, the White-backed Duck inhabits natural and man-made dams and pans of any size and permanence with clear water and abundant floating and emergent plants, where they are exquisitely camouflaged and easily overlooked. The white patch on their backs from which they get their name is only seen in flight. They are usually seen in pairs or family groups but occasionally form larger flocks of over a hundred. White-backed Ducks rarely venture onto dry land.
Monogamous pairs of White-backed Ducks (perhaps life-long bonds) breed year-round in dense reed beds or other thick plant material standing in the water. Clutches of up to 9 eggs are laid on a nest platform built of the surrounding plant material, and incubated by both parents for 4-5 weeks. The ducklings are able to follow their parents onto and into the water less than a day after hatching and are fully grown by the time they’re 4 months old. Adults measure about 43cm in length and weigh around 650g.
In South Africa, the White-backed Duck has a rather patchy distribution, with concentrations in the Highveld grassland areas, in Kwazulu-Natal, the Garden Route and the Cape Winelands. Beyond our borders their range stretches to Ethiopia and Madagascar, with isolated populations in the Sahel. According to the IUCN it is of least concern.