Blue-billed Duck

Oxyura australis

Blue-billed Ducks. Photo John Gitsham

Blue-billed ducks belong to the genus Oxyura, the stiff-tailed ducks.  The stiff upright tail feathers of the male are distinctive enabling the birds to be identified from a long way off. These tail feathers also demonstrate the Blue-bill’s close relationship to the Musk Duck.

Blue-bills feed on aquatic plants and insects, also molluscs, crustaceans and arachnids. They obtain most of their food by diving and by swimming under water. They spend little time on land.

Blue-billed Duck, clearly showing stiff tail feathers in erect position. Kevin Williams

Breeding occurs mainly in spring and summer, marked by a spectacular display by the male. The pair bond is brief, lasting normally only between mating and laying, although the same pair may produce multiple broods in a single season. The nest is a deep bowl of dead leaves, lined with down and placed in dense vegetation over water.


The breeding male is distinctive with sky-blue bill, black head, chestnut body and a stiff, upright tail. The under body, tail and wings are off-white and the dark brown wings have no speculum (iridescent wing patch, as clearly seen on the Pacific Black Duck for example). In non-breeding dress the bill is slate grey with a grey-speckled head. Females have plain faces, and dark horn bills. The body is medium grey with fine barring. The beak of both sexes has a distinctive ‘ski-jump’ curve.

Where to find it

Blue-billed ducks can be found in the wetter south and eastern areas of South Australia. In the breeding season look for them on freshwater wetlands of all types, which are borded by reedbeds or other dense vegetation. They tend to move to larger, deeper bodies of water outside the breeding season. They are sometimes found on saltwater bodies but very seldom in marine waters.