Species profile

Spotted Whistling Duck

Spotted Whistling Duck

Range and abundance

The Spotted Whistling Duck has a very large range outside of Australia, extending across New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Phillipines. It has only recently been recorded in northern Australia with the first record in 1995 as a rare vagrant. Individuals were then observed at Weipa, Darwin and Lockhart River on Cape York Peninsula in 2011 and subsequently near Cairns and on the Daintree River in 2012. The birds were first recorded at Piccaninny Plains in 2012 and have subsequently bred in Australia. Numbers within Australia are likely to be low – flocks of 5 to 30 individuals were observed at Piccaninny Plains and other reports are of pairs or small groups.


The Spotted Whistling Duck is a relative of the Wandering and Plumed Whistling Ducks, are common across northern Australia. The Spotted Whistling Duck has dark chocolate brown plumage, scalloped with chestnut or buff highlights. The head, chest and bellow is grey to light brown with dark eye mask and dark line of feathers along the middle of the head and neck. The flank feathers have large white spots, edged in dark brown, which give the duck its name. The legs and feet are pinkish-brown.


Very little is known of the ecology of this species, despite it being distributed over a large geographic area.  They are primarily nocturnal feeders, filtering surface water and vegetation and diving for invertebrates. The diet is mainly composed of grass seeds, vegetable matter and small snails. Spotted Whistling Ducks may form durable bond pairs. Breeding usually commences in September. Ducks build a nest in a tall hollow tree or in vegetation near the water. Both parents will take turns to incubate the 10-12 eggs, which hatch after approximately a month. The downy chicks will fledge approximately 40-50 days after hatching.


Although only a recent migrant to Australia, the continued presence of this species is dependent on maintaining suitable wetland habitat. On Cape York Peninsula, wetlands are often heavily disturbed by pigs and cattle. 

What is AWC doing?

AWC implements an extensive feral control program at Piccaninny Plains, in particular for feral pigs which can cause extensive damage in wetland habitats. AWC is removing feral cattle and horses from the floodplains of the Archer and Wenlock Rivers; these areas support numerous waterholes.

Did you know:

Spotted Whistling Ducks can raise the dark feathers on the top of their head to form a small crest giving the impression that they have a mohawk.