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Oxyura maccoa (Maccoa duck) 

Bloubekeend [Afrikaans]; Idada (generic term for duck) [Xhosa]; Letata (generic term for duck) [South Sotho]; Afrikaanse stekelstaart [Dutch]; Érismature maccoa [French]; Maccoa-ente [German]; Pato-de-rabo-alçado-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

Oxyura maccoa (Maccoa duck)  Oxyura maccoa (Maccoa duck) 
Maccoa duck male. [photo Callie de Wet ©] Maccoa duck female, Strandfontein Sewerage Works, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Oxyura maccoa (Maccoa duck) 

Immature Maccoa duck. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

A diving duck with distinctive stiff tail that it either keeps flat with the water surface or sticks up in the air. It is the only stiff-tailed duck species in the region. The male in breeding plumage has a blue bill, a chestnut coloured body and dark head, whereas the female and non-breeding male have a dark brown bill and browny coloured body and head, with a pale stripe running beneath the eye. The name 'maccoa' is derived from 'Macao' or 'Macau' in China and is a misnomer because this species is indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa, not Asia. The distribution is divided between a population in East Africa and the Ethiopian Highlands and another population within southern Africa, where it is widely dispersed. They feed mainly on bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Breeding is interesting in that the male holds a territory containing multiple females, and females are expected to do all of the work of making the nest, laying and incubating the eggs, and looking after the ducklings. They are also nest parasites at times, laying their eggs not only in other Maccoa duck nests but also in nests of other species of ducks and even those of Red-knobbed coots. 

Distribution and habitat

Found within Sub-Saharan  Africa where there are two discrete populations: (1) East Africa and Ethiopian highlands; and (2) southern Africa. It has a scattered distribution over most of southern Africa, but is mainly concentrated on the highveld (Gauteng, North-West Province, Mpumalanga and Free State), the Western Cape, and upland areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Prefers permanent wetlands that have rich concentrations of bottom-dwelling (benthic) invertebrates. 

Distribution of Maccoa 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.  

Predators, parasites and pathogens

  • Pathogens
    • Clostridium botulinum (Type C) - produces toxin that causes avian botulism.
    • Mycobacterium causing avian tuberculosis (recorded in captivity)


  • Mainly benthic invertebrates, obtained through diving:
    • midge larvae and pupae
    • Crustacea > Ostracoda
    • Crustacea > Cladocera > Daphnia
    • Mollusca > Gastropoda
  • Aquatic plant matter makes up a small proportion of the diet:
    • Seeds:
      • Persicaria (knotweed)
      • Polygonum (knotweed)
    • roots


  • The male is promiscuous and can have up to eight females nesting simultaneously in his territory, which he guards against intrusion by other males. Males with inferior territories are ignored by females. Fights between males can occur both above and below water, and include under water chases and physical attacks where birds hold each other with their bills and beat each other with their wings. A male can be territorial and sexually active for at least four months.

Maccoa duck nest, Wakkerstroom, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • The nest is built by the female in emergent vegetation such as reeds (Phragmites), bulrushes (Typha) or sedges (Cyperaceae) growing in fairly deep water. It consists of leaves and stems from the surrounding vegetation pulled down and bent into bulky bowl, with eggs lying from 8-23 cm above water level. It is vulnerable to flooding because it is secured to the emergent vegetation. As in the White-backed duck, the nest is sometimes built on top of an old Great-crested grebe or Red-knobbed coot nest. 
  • Breeding season is year-round.
  • The female lays a clutch of 2-9 eggs, each egg being laid at one to two day intervals. Clutches of more than nine eggs (up to 16 have been recorded) are the result of nest parasitism by other females. Incubation (by the female only) starts after clutch completion and takes 25-27 days before the eggs hatch. During this time she is on the nest for about 72% of the time, which uses up a lot of her energy. In fact, unless she lays down fat deposits greater than 20% of her body weight before nesting begins, she is unlikely to be able to endure this period of incubating and sometimes has to desert her clutch. 
  • Ducklings leave the nest soon after hatching and start diving and feeding for themselves immediately. Only the female stays with her brood and she does so for anything ranging from 2-5 weeks. Initially she keeps them in the vicinity of the nest and broods them on the nest at night. 
  • Nest parasitism is common: other than laying eggs in each other's nests, they have also been recorded laying them in Fulvous duck, Egyptian goose, Hottentot teal, Southern pochard and Red-knobbed coot nests. 


No serious threats and in fact its distribution has expanded as a result of the construction of artificial water bodies (e.g. farm dams). 


  • 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.