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Pacific Black Duck

Life in the air

“Filled with shotgun pellets that spray the air in their cowardice, tens of thousands of Pacific Black Ducks, the precious birdlife of Australia, have tumbled towards Victoria’s earth and water, year on year and year after year after year”.

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

May 21, 2023

Standing at Lake Cullen, part of the Ramsar system in Northern Victoria, waiting for the shooting to start on the opening morning of Victoria’s Duck shooting season was like waiting for an execution. It was horrible and depressing and stomach churning. This is definitely a place that none of you should be in. Great suffering, for precisely no purpose at all. We see all the suffering and it shocks us to the core.


The Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa has a wide geographic distribution and occurs in Australia, parts of Indonesia (South Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya), Papua New Guinea (including New Britain and New Ireland) and New Zealand (where the pure form has declined significantly) as well as the islands of the southwest Pacific Ocean, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Caroline Islands, Palau, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa, Cook Islands and the Society Islands.


The Pacific Black Duck  is a very handsome bird, with its distinctive facial stripe and green speculum on its secondary wing feathers.

The three subspecies are pelewensis (distribution south-west Pacific Islands and north New Guinea), rogersi (distribution Indonesian, south New Guinea and Australia) and superciliosa (distribution New Zealand and its offshore islands).  In New Zealand the species is known locally as the Grey Duck.

While the ‘global’ population remains relatively large the population trend is uncertain. What is well documented are the significant and recent declines in the subspecies superciliosa and rogersi.

In1970, the IUCN put the New Zealand population of superciliosa at 1.5 million birds and estimates of the 1993 population places the species in a population range of 80,000 to 150,000 birds.

Declines are attributed to habitat loss and competition from other species and a process of hybridisation, the later particularly evident in New Zealand. Declines in Indonesia and Melanesia are mainly attributed to hunting and habitat loss and this will also be the case in Australia.


We should note that, just because the Pacific Black Duck appears to be relatively common in Australia, this is not an excuse to massacre the species at scale. We should take a moment to remember the fate of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius. Its population prior to extinction by mass slaughter was estimated at three to five billion birds, a number vastly greater than the number of Pacific Black Ducks.