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Maccoa Duck

Oxyura maccoa

The Maccoa Duck, a stiff-tailed diving duck, is an intriguing avian species native to Eastern and Southern Africa. Its distinctive tail feathers, often held erect, betray its membership in the stiff-tailed group. Adapted for underwater agility, these ducks have legs positioned towards the rear, rendering them somewhat clumsy on land.

Identification Tips

Male

During the breeding season, the male Maccoa Duck is unmistakable with its striking cobalt blue bill, black head, and throat. The chestnut hues of its breast and back contrast with the greyish-brown underparts, dark brown rump, and black tail and feet. In flight, the male reveals off-white underwing feathers and white axillaries. Outside of breeding, males resemble females but retain a darker crown and subtle chestnut on the back.

Female

The female presents a more subdued palette, sporting a greyish-black bill with a lighter tip, a light brown face with a dark crown and cheek stripe, and an off-white throat. Her plumage includes a light brown breast, darker brown back, off-white underparts, and black extremities.

Juvenile

Juvenile Maccoa Ducks mirror the adult females in plumage, though their tail feathers are slimmer and notched, and their crowns are a darker shade of brown.

Habitat

Maccoa Ducks favor nutrient-rich inland waters, from fresh to brackish, including lakes, ponds, salty pans, dams, and river mouths. During breeding, they seek habitats with open freshwater and adjacent emergent vegetation, often nesting among reeds.

Distribution

This sedentary species is scattered across southern and eastern Africa, with significant populations in South Africa. They are known to inhabit human-made water bodies such as dams, which provide deep freshwater environments conducive to their diving lifestyle.

Behaviour

Vocalizations

Males perform mating displays accompanied by short whistles or a purring sound, while both sexes emit low grunts when threatened.

Diet and Feeding

As omnivores, Maccoa Ducks forage for aquatic invertebrates and plants, diving to sift through lakebed debris. They show a preference for certain plant genera and consume various life stages of invertebrates, including worms, larvae, and eggs.

Breeding

Breeding occurs from January to May, with males exhibiting polygyny and territorial defense. Females build nests or use existing ones, laying clutches of 5 to 6 eggs, sometimes engaging in egg dumping. Incubation lasts about 25 to 27 days, but the fledging period remains elusive.

Similar Species

The Maccoa Duck can be confused with other stiff-tailed ducks like the Blue-billed Duck (Oxyura australis) and the White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala), but it is distinguished by its unique coloration and habitat preferences.

Conservation status

Classified as Endangered, the Maccoa Duck faces threats from pollution, climate change, and bycatch. Pollution, particularly from pesticides and herbicides, poses a risk due to bioaccumulation in their higher trophic diet. Climate change threatens to dry up their wetland habitats, while bycatch in fishing nets is an increasing concern.

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