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The masked duck, Nomonyx dominicus, is a diving duck and the smallest member of the stiff-tailed duck family. Masked ducks range from 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) in length and have an average wingspan of about 20 inches (51 cm). Adult males have bodies that are a chestnut red in color, along with speckled wings and a brilliant blue bill. Distinctively, the male has a mask of black feathers that covers its cheeks and crown and gives the bird its name. A female masked duck is grayish brown in color and has two dark stripes that run horizontally through its beige-colored face, giving it a masked appearance as well.
Geographically, the masked duck is found mainly in the tropical regions of the western hemisphere. This type of duck inhabits the Caribbean and the tropical parts of South America as far south as northern Peru, Uruguay and Argentina. Masked ducks also are commonly seen in both Mexico and Central America, and they sometimes stray into southern Texas. These are basically sedentary birds that do not migrate.
The masked duck is a freshwater duck. Its preferred habitat is areas of freshwater landscapes with a lot of trees and other vegetation either in or around the water. This type of duck can be found in small ponds, lakes, mangrove swamps, dense marshes and even rice fields. Sightings of masked ducks are relatively rare because it is a very wary bird and will hide below the water or in dense vegetation at the first sign of danger. Although these birds are not rare, scientists have not been able to study the masked duck thoroughly because of its secretive nature.
Masked ducks feed by diving. Mostly, these ducks feed on the leaves, seeds, stems and roots of aquatic plants. They also will eat aquatic crustaceans and different kinds of aquatic insects.
Breeding season lasts a long time for this duck species. The nest looks like a deep cup and occasionally is roofed over and resembles a basketball. Nests are almost always near water and often are hidden near the shore in dense masses of vegetation.
Female masked ducks have also been seen nesting close to water in rice fields. An average of four to six beige-colored eggs is laid. It is believed that the male masked duck has only a minor role in taking care of the young hatchlings.