Family Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)

Least Concern

White-backed Duck (Thalassornis leuconotus)


French: Dendrocygne à dos blanc German: Weißrücken-Pfeifgans Spanish: Pato dorsiblanco

Thalassornis leuconotus


, 1838,

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa


Specific name sometimes spelt leuconotos, but original spelling is as given here. A distinctive species placed in its own genus, it was formerly considered to be closer to stifftails (subfamily Oxyurinae), but is now usually regarded as an atypical whistling-duck and included in Dendrocygninae. In the past was sometimes isolated in its own tribe (Thalassornini) or subfamily (Thalassorninae). Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. l. leuconotus Eyton, 1838 – locally from Senegal E to Chad; Ethiopia to South Africa.
  • T. l. insularis Richmond, 1897 – Madagascar.
  • Descriptive notes

    38–43 cm; male 650–790 g, female 625–765 g. Black rump and uppertail-coverts with narrow white barring; mid back black. Sexes alike. Juvenile darker with... read more


    Considered to be usually silent, although both sexes give whistled calls, e.g. “whit-wee” or “si-... read more


    Favours a variety of quiet freshwater lakes, pools, lagoons, marshes and swamps, even suburban dams... read more

    Food and feeding

    Eminently vegetarian, principally seeds and leaves of aquatic plants, especially water lilies (Nymphaea) and floating hearts (... read more


    Season variable according to locality, generally coincides with period of higher and more stable water levels: Dec in Senegal, Sept in... read more


    Mostly sedentary, with some local or semi-nomadic movements largely related to availability of... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Still locally common, but has declined in parts of range (e.g. Uganda) due to agricultural development and locally (in Malawi) the... read more

    Recommended citation

    Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). White-backed Duck (Thalassornis leuconotus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 14 December 2019).