|DUSKY DUCK, Black Mallard, Black
English Duck, (Florida), are some of the names by which
this well-known member of the family is recognized
throughout eastern North America, west to Utah, and north
to Labrador. It is much less common in the interior than
along the Atlantic coast. It is called the characteristic
and one of the commonest Ducks of New England, where it
breeds at large, and from thence northeastward, but is
most numerous during the migrations.
The nest of the Black Duck is placed on the ground, in grass or rushes in the neighborhood of ponds, pools, and streams, in meadows and sometimes in swamps. It is a large and neatly arranged structure of weeds and grass, hollowed and lined with down and feathers from the breast of the bird. In rare instances it has been known to build its nest in the hollow of a tree, or a stub projecting from the water of a swamp. Mr. Frazer found the nest of this Duck in Labrador usually placed upon the out-reaching branches of stunted spruces, which are seldom higher than four feet.
The eggs of this species are from six to twelve in number, usually seven or eight, and vary in color from pale buff to pale greenish buff. The nesting period is from the last of April to the early part of June.
The Black Duck is a very wary creature, exceedingly difficult of approach. They are found in great numbers,
when congregated on salt water, five to ten being an
average flock started from pond and feeding ground.
During the severe winters, says Hallock, when every sheet of water is bound in with a thick covering of ice, the Black Ducks are driven to warm spring holes where the water never freezes. The approach of evening drives the Ducks from the bay or sound, where they have been sitting during the day, and they seek these open inland spots for food and shelter. Brush-houses are constructed of sedge, cedar boughs, etc., at the mouths of fresh water rivers and creeks, in places where the marsh land is low and intersected by branches of the main stream. Here the Ducks come to feed at night and are taken by hunters who are concealed in the bushes. These houses are left standing, however, and the wary Ducks soon avoid entirely this locality, and feed elsewhere. The brush-house building on feeding grounds cannot be too severely condemned.
Hallock observes that of all the birds which during spring and fall traverse our country probably none equal these Ducks in point of size, numbers and economic value. The group is confined neither to the sea coast, nor to the interior, but is spread out over the whole breadth of the continent, in summer extending its migrations to the furthest north, and in winter proceeding only so far south as it is forced to by the freezing of the waters of its northern home.