Old World Comb Duck

Old World Comb Duck

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Old World comb duck, comb duck, knob-billed duck
Genus Species
Sarkidiornis (fleshy comb) melanotos (black back)

Fast Facts

Old World comb ducks are large-sized ducks. They have a metallic-violet, purple, bronze and green back with yellow or cinnamon flanks. The head is creamy-white and the neck is orange-yellow in color. Some individuals may have a black head.  Both sexes possess a small crest of slightly curly feathers. The less glossy females lack a comb and the yellowish head coloration, and their head has more spots than the males.
Reaches lengths of 64 to 69 cm (25 to 27 in.)
Approximately 800 to 940 g (2 lbs.)
Their diet consists primarily of vegetable matter, including the seeds of grasses and sedges, aquatic plants, agricultural grain, and wheat. They will also feed on aquatic insect larvae and locusts.
30 to 32 days
Clutch Size
6 to 11 eggs
Fledging Duration
10 weeks
Sexual Maturity
About 1 to 2 years
Life Span
Approximately 20 to 30 years
This species has an extremely large range throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. They are also found in India to southern China, Viet Nam, Thailand, and Cambodia.
This species inhabits grassy ponds or lakes in savanna, open woodlands along large rivers and lakes, swamps, marshes, floodplains, river deltas, flooded forest, pastures and rice-paddies, and occasionally sandbars and mudflats.
The total population has at least 10,000 mature individuals. The population appears to be decreasing but is not severely fragmented.
IUCN: Least Concern
CITES: Appendix II
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

These birds are named for the prominent, leaf-shaped comb on top of the male's bill. The comb is fleshy and reduced in size for much of the year, but enlarges prior to breeding season.

This species tends to migrate long distances, occasionally traveling more than 3,541 km (2,200 mi.).

Old World comb ducks perch in trees and are able to cling to vertical tree trunks with their strong claws.

These ducks are usually silent except when annoyed or displaying. At that time, males hiss, wheeze, or croak and whistle while females quack, grunt, and whine.

Old World Comb Ducks nest in tree cavities about 6.1 to 9.1 meters (20 to 30 ft.) above the ground.

These birds, as with other tree ducks, practice dump nesting where several females lay their eggs in one nest. Such nests may hold more than 50 eggs.

Ecology and Conservation

Old World comb ducks are threatened by hunting, habitat destruction, and the indiscriminate use of poison in rice-fields.

The species has declined in the Senegal Delta following the damming of the Senegal River. This has resulted in habitat degradation and loss from vegetation overgrowth, desertification processes and land conversion to agriculture


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Scott, P. A Coloured Key of the Wildfowl of the World. Slimbridge, England. The Wildfowl Trust. 1988.

Todd, F.S. Natural History of Waterfowl. San Diego, Ca. Ibis Publishing Co., 1996.


BirdLife International. 2016. Sarkidiornis melanotos. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T45953631A95159254. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T45953631A95159254.en. Downloaded on 10 December 2018.