Identifying Different Duck Species

duck species
In order to identify different duck species you need to consider size, shape, plumage patterns, colors, wingbeat, flocking behavior, voice and habitat.

When trying to identify ducks, hunters must observe several things. Differences in size, shape, plumage patterns, colors, wingbeat, flocking behavior, voice and habitat all help separate one species from another. Is the duck large or small? Is its body long and slender or short and plump? Does it have a crest? What color are its wing patches, cap, head, breast, belly, back and tail? Or its eyes, bill and feet?

Does the duck dive when feeding, or does it just tip head-down? Does it patter across the water on takeoff or fly straight up? What type of habitat is it in?

By observing these and other characteristics, you’ll soon be distinguishing ducks you once thought impossible to identify.

Not all identification characteristics of all North American ducks are included. Some things, such as voice and habitat, are not included, and only more common species are listed. For more information, check one of the excellent identification guides now available.

Dabbling Ducks

Dabbling ducks, or puddle ducks, are usually seen in shallow waters such as flooded fields and marshes. They feed by tipping up rather than diving. When taking flight, they spring into the air instead of pattering across the water. Most swim with their tail held clear of the water and have a colorful, iridescent speculum (a rectangular patch at the hind edge of the wing).

  • Mallard Mallard
  • Wood Duck Wood Duck
  • Green-Winged Teal Green-Winged Teal
  • Blue-Winged Teal Blue-Winged Teal
  • Pintail Pintail
  • Shoveler Shoveler
  • American Wigeon American Wigeon
  • Gadwall Gadwall

Diving Ducks

Diving ducks, also called sea ducks, are typically birds of large, deep lakes and rivers, coastal bays and inlets. Their speculums lack the brilliance of those on most dabblers. Most patter along the water in taking wing. They all dive for food, whereas dabblers rarely dive. They also have a more rapid wingbeat than most dabblers.

  • Ring-Necked Duck Ring-Necked Duck
  • Ruddy Duck Ruddy Duck
  • Lesser Scaup Lesser Scaup
  • Bufflehead Bufflehead



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