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Anas sparsa (African black duck) 

Swarteend [Afrikaans]; Idada (generic term for duck) [Xhosa]; iDada (generic term for duck) [Zulu]; Letata (generic term for duck), Letata-la-noka [South Sotho]; Afrikaanse zwarte eend [Dutch]; Canard noirâtre [French]; Schwarzente [German]; Pato-preto-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Anseriformes > Family: Anatidae

Anas sparsa (African black duck) Anas sparsa (African black duck) 

African Black Duck, Harold Porter Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

African black duck, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa.. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The African black duck is fairly common in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, with small populations in other countries in southern Africa. It is a river specialist, rarely straying away from rivers and streams. Its diet is not well known, but it is thought to eat more invertebrates than it does plant products. The female builds the nest, which is a deep bowl made of plant matter, placed near water. It lays 4-11 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female. The ducklings are cared for by their mother, who is always alert for predators. The chicks can usually can fly at 77 days old, after which they become independent.

Distribution and habitat

Fairly common in in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, with a very small population in Namibia. It is a habitat specialist, as it is found mainly in rivers and streams. It rarely moves into wetlands, sewerage ponds and dams.

Distribution of African black duck in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  



Recorded by J. Stannard, Craggador, 1975. [© Transvaal Museum]



Sedentary, staying mostly in the same place its whole life. Of the three birds ringed birds recovered, the furthest distance travelled was 9km, but it has probably travelled more than that.

Predators and parasites

  • Predators
    • Bubo lacteus (Verreaux's eagle-owl, Giant eagle owl) 
    • Crocodylus niloticus (Nile crocodile)
  • Parasites
    • Rhinonyssus rhinolethrum (Parasitic nasal mite)


Its diet is not well known, but it seems to eat more invertebrates than it does plant matter. It usually feeds by dabbling, filtering or upending. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Animals
    • invertebrates
      • insect larvae
      • crustaceans
      • Chironimid (midge) larvae
      • molluscs
      • crabs
    • vertebrates
      • fish fry
      • Oncorhynchus mykiss (Rainbow trout)
  • Plant matter
    • Morus (mulberries)
    • Pyracantha (firethorns) fruit
    • Quercus (oak) acorns
    • cultivated grain seeds


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester. Courtship is quite elaborate, with neck biting, diving, and various other displays.
  • The female builds the nest, which is a deep bowl, usually made of grass, lined with down feathers. It is placed very close to the water, normally 2 metres away, surrounded by either grass, tangled roots or a hollow stump.
  • Laying dates are as follows:
      Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
    North-eastern South Africa                        
    Free State Province                        
    Eastern Cape                        
    Western Cape                        
    Northern Cape                        
  • It lays 4-11 eggs, in successive mornings.
  • Incubation is done solely by the female for 28-32 days. She normally leaves the nest for about an hour two times daily, to join the male in feeding, preening and bathing.
  • The ducklings are led by their mother to the water once dry. The mother keeps them under cover, and protects them from predators. The chicks usually feed by diving, or sometimes chasing insects along the water. They can fly at 77 days old, after which they become independent.


The African black duck is not threatened, but because it is a river specialist it is probably at risk from dam-building.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.