South America is home to an incredible diversity of bird species. With over 3,300 species identified, South America contains over one-third of the world’s bird species. Of this incredible avian diversity, one family commonly found worldwide but also present in South America is the duck family Anatidae.
Ducks are aquatic birds belonging to the family Anatidae in the order Anseriformes. There are around 140 species of duck divided among 16 genera. While ducks are found worldwide on every continent except Antarctica, the highest duck diversity occurs in the Northern Hemisphere. This includes North America, Europe, and Asia.
So what about South America? Does this continent have native duck species and if so, which species are they? South America is home to a more limited diversity of duck species compared to North America, but there are still some endemic ducks found only on this continent.
Native Ducks of South America
There are around 8 duck species native to and breeding in South America. Some of the most widespread and notable native ducks include:
- Brazilian Teal (Amazonetta brasiliensis)
- White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis)
- Yellow-billed Pintail (Anas georgica)
- Silver Teal (Spatula versicolor)
- Red Shoveler (Spatula platalea)
- Rosy-billed Pochard (Netta peposaca)
- Lake Duck (Oxyura vittata)
- Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus)
Some of the most widespread species include the Brazilian Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Yellow-billed Pintail, and Silver Teal. The Brazilian Teal is found throughout much of northern and central South America. The Silver Teal has the largest range in South America, found from Colombia and Venezuela south to Chile and Argentina.
In addition to species breeding in South America, there are also several migratory duck species that visit seasonally on their migrations between North America and South America. Some ducks that migrate to and through South America include:
- Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors)
- Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera)
- Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)
- Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
- Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)
These migratory ducks breed in North America and spend the winter farther south in Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean. Some will go as far south as northern Chile and Argentina. They utilize wetlands, flooded fields, marshes, rivers, lakes, and other aquatic habitats in these regions during the winter months.
Notable Absent Duck Species
While South America has a diversity of native ducks, there are also some very notable widespread duck species that are absent from this continent. Some of the most common Northern Hemisphere ducks not found in South America include:
- Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
- Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
- Gadwall (Mareca strepera)
- American Wigeon (Mareca americana)
- Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)
- Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)
The most widespread dabbling duck species, the Mallard and closely related American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), are native to North America, Europe, Asia, and Hawaii but completely absent from South America. Other notable diving ducks like the Canvasback, Redhead (Aythya americana), and Scaup (Aythya species) are also restricted to North America.
Factors Influencing South America’s Duck Fauna
Why does South America have fewer duck species compared to North America and Eurasia? Here are some of the major factors that have influenced the duck diversity on this continent:
- Isolation – South America was isolated as an island continent for millions of years, reducing colonization by ducks from other continents.
- Fewer migratory routes – The lack of connectivity to North America reduces migratory duck populations.
- Climate – Much of the continent has a tropical climate less suitable to ducks.
- Habitat diversity – South America has fewer extensive wetland habitats ducks prefer.
- Competition – Competition from other waterfowl may have limited duck distribution and diversity.
While these factors have resulted in fewer duck species in South America, there are still a number of endemic ducks evolved on this continent and developed adaptations to its environments and conditions.
Major Duck Habitats in South America
The ducks of South America rely on aquatic habitats throughout the continent. Here are some of the major ecosystems and wetland regions used by ducks in South America:
- Flooded grasslands – Seasonally flooded grasslands like the Llanos of Venezuela and Colombia attract dabbling ducks.
- High-altitude lakes – Lakes in the Andes mountains are used by many duck species.
- Coastal lagoons – Coastal lagoons along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts are important habitats.
- Rivers – Major river systems like the Amazon, Orinoco, and Paraguay Rivers and their floodplains.
- Swamps – Swampy, densely vegetated wetlands are found across the continent.
- Salt lakes – Endorheic lakes in arid regions attract ducks when water conditions allow.
This variety of wetland habitats across South America provides the ecological niches needed to maintain the continent’s native duck populations and support visiting migratory ducks.
Status and Threats to South American Ducks
Many of South America’s ducks remain widespread and abundant throughout their native ranges. However, some species face threats from habitat loss, climate change, hunting, pollution, and other factors. The status and major threats facing some ducks include:
|Species||Conservation Status||Major Threats|
|Brazilian Teal||Least Concern||Wetland habitat loss, pesticides|
|Silver Teal||Near Threatened||Declining due to habitat loss and hunting pressure|
|White-cheeked Pintail||Near Threatened||Sensitive to habitat degradation, hunted throughout range|
|Lake Duck||Endangered||Restricted range, hybridization, habitat loss|
|Masked Duck||Near Threatened||Wetland drainage, sensitive to habitat changes|
Conservation efforts for South American ducks need to focus on habitat protection, sustainable hunting practices, control of invasive species, and reducing pollution impacts. Maintaining the ecological integrity of wetlands across the continent will be key to preserving duck populations.
Hunting of South American Ducks
Many duck species in South America are hunted and harvested as game birds. Duck hunting has a long tradition throughout South and Central America. Some details about duck hunting in South America include:
- Popular game species – Brazilian Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Rosy-billed Pochard, and migratory ducks are commonly hunted.
- Sport and subsistence hunting – Ducks are hunted by recreational hunters and rural families for food.
- Methods – Shotguns, rifles, bowhunting, and traditional traps are used.
- Seasons – Hunting is regulated with defined seasons and bag limits in most countries.
- Tourism – Duck hunting tours and eco-lodges cater to visiting foreign hunters.
- Threats – Illegal and unregulated hunting impacts some duck populations.
Ensuring the sustainability and proper management of duck hunting in South America will require cooperation between governments, conservation groups, indigenous communities, and hunting associations. When regulated appropriately, duck hunting can provide food and economic resources to local communities.
While South America does not have the duck diversity found in regions like North America, this continent is still home to a variety of interesting endemic ducks and hosts many migratory duck species each year. South American ducks rely on the diverse wetland habitats throughout the continent. Conservation efforts focused on protecting essential duck habitats and sustainable management of species like the White-cheeked Pintail will help ensure the survival of South America’s unique duck fauna into the future.