White-backed duck


White-backed duck (Thalassornis leuconotus leuconotus)

The White-backed duck (Thalassornis leuconotus leuconotus) is a duck from the family of water birds that includes ducks, geese, and swans (Anatidae).

Species name

Dutch name:
English name:
White-backed duck
German name:
French name:
Érismature à dos blanc
Scientific name:
Thalassornis leuconotus leuconotus

Scientific classification




Head and neck buff speckled with brown, heavies speckling on crown, with foreneck and sides of neck plain buff. White patch near bill. Breast, underparts and upperparts buff with black barring, broader barring on flanks than breast and dusky on abdomen. Scapulars brown with buff barring. Rump and uppertail coverts black with white tipping. Lower back white, not visible when wings folded. Wing coverts dark brown with buff and white markings. Flight feathers paler brown.

Apparently similar to male. But slightly smaller, Best if compared while paired. 

Darker and duller then adults, with more black spotting on cheeks and upper neck; less distinctive barring below.

Standard Measurements

Body Length (cm):
The male (drake) of the White-backed duck measures approximately 38-45 centimeters. The female measures approximately 38-45 centimeters.
Body Weight (grams):
The male will weight about 625-800 gram. The female will weight about 625-800 gram.
The weight is notoriously variable and can only be used as indication!

There are Two Subspecies:

  • African White-backed Duck - Thalassornis leuconotus leuconotus
  • Madagascan White-backed Duck - Thalassornis leuconotus insularis

White-backed have never been particularly common in captivity, they are easy to maintain and long lived and are relatively easy to get to lay in confinement but the young can be a challenge to rear. Unlike most waterfowl they are notoriously difficult to vent sex so there have probably been many instances in the past where an assumed pair are in fact birds of the same sex that is not conducive to a growing population. With such a rare species DNA sexing is advised. The diet of captive White-backed is very simple , they will take pellets as long as they are available close to the waters edge, they also eat with relish most of the floating waterfowl pellets and they absolutely adore wheat and various millets. Note that given the choice they would probably feed on nothing other than millet and they will thrive but it has been suggested that this diet makes them fat and may cause infertility.

White-backed are easy to maintain on a large piece of natural water but also work very well on relatively small artificial ponds. It is perhaps the smaller enclosures that provide observation at close quarters that allows the character of the white-backed to really be appreciated. 


Provided there is cover close to the water White-backed will happily construct their own nest. This is an impressive construction completed by both members of the pair. If cover is not available they may be tempted to use an open fronted ground box but I have not had experience of this so am not able to confirm. Once nest construction has started it is not difficult to locate the nest because if you encroach to closely the pair will rush to the site and defend with much hissing and aggressive threat postures. Once the nest is complete eggs can be expected and these really are quite something, they are large, quite rounded and the most beautifull chocolate brown.

The female White-backed duck usually lays from 5-8 chocolate brown eggs and incubates them for 28 days.

Artificial incubating:

The ideal relative humidity for incubating most waterfowl eggs is 55% (ground nesters) and 40% (cavity nesters). The temperature is usually 37.4°C. Set ventilation as recommended by the incubator manufacturer. Eggs must be turned, either automatically or by hand, a minimum of 4 times a day. As the duckling develops there is a loss of water from the egg and the air sac gets bigger. In normal development of an egg with a 28 days incubation, the air sac occupies about a third of it three days earlier. Cleanliness is vital and ideally eggs should be moved to a separate hatcher at this point, where the humidity should be increased to 65% and even higher once they have pipped internally.

Bird banding:
Recommended closed leg band ring size for the White-backed duck is 10 mm.
The leg band ring can only be applied on a young duck at around 12-14 days old.

It doesn't matter what leg that you band, but it's good to have a consistent system.
Suggested: Left leg = Female, Right leg = Male
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Maintenance food:
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Photos of the White-backed duck

Videos of the White-backed duck