The Plumed Whistling-Duck has a honey-coloured head and neck, and a cinnamon-coloured breast covered with fine, chocolate-brown barring, which extends onto its flanks. Also on the bird’s flanks are a collection of prominent nougat-coloured plumes with chocolate-brown edges. This tasty colour combination makes the Plumed Whistling-Duck a delectably handsome waterbird. Its distinctive, high-pitched whistling calls were once confined to northern Australia, but after floods in the 1950s the species expanded its range into the Riverina region of NSW, and from there it colonised northern and western Victoria as well.
The Plumed Whistling-Duck is one of two whistling or tree ducks found in Australia. It is a tall, long-necked duck, with very prominent long lanceolate off-white plumes edged in black along the flanks. The face and foreneck are light, the crown and hind neck are pale brown and the brown feathers of the upper back are edged buff. The breast is pale chestnut, finely barred in black. The bill is mottled pink and grey and the legs and feet are pink. It is also known as Grass Whistle Duck, Eyton’s Plumed, Red-legged or Whistling Tree-duck, Grass, Grey or Red-legged Whistler, and the Monkey Duck.
The Plumed Whistling-Duck makes a loud sibilant whistle. Bird call recorded by: Marc Anderson
The Plumed Whistling-Duck is mainly found in the northern and eastern tropics of Australia, it also extends southwards to New South Wales in the east but does not come far south of the Kimberleys in the west.
During the day the Plumed Whistling-Duck congregates in large numbers with other waterfowl, on the margins of lagoons, swamps and mangrove creeks, for preening and sleeping. At night they fly out, often quite long distances, to feed on grasslands.
In the breeding season, the Plumed Whistling-Duck leaves the water and nests on the grassy plains. It has also benefitted from pastoral practices, which provide dams for water and pasture on which to graze.
Plumed Whistling-Ducks graze on tropical grasses. They pluck grass (like a goose) and also take food from the water by dabbling from the surface.
Breeding for the Plumed Whistling-Duck begins in the tropical Wet Season. The nest is a scrape in the ground, sparsely lined with grass, usually under the shelter of a bush or other vegetation. The Plumed Whistling-Duck is monogamous, and pair-bonds are probably life-long. Both sexes share the duties of incubation, with the changeover taking place in the evening, and brood the young.