Dabbling Ducks

Dabbling DucksView All Waterfowl

Dabbling ducks, or puddle ducks, frequent 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 colorful, iridescent speculum (a rectangular patch at the hind edge of the wing).

American Black Duck

American black ducks are similar to mallards in size, and resemble the female mallard in coloration, though the black duck's plumage is darker. The male and female black duck are similar in appearance, but the male's bill is yellow while the female's is a dull green. The head is slightly lighter brown than the dark brown body, and the speculum is iridescent violet-blue with predominantly black margins. In flight, the white underwings can be seen in contrast to the dark brown body.

American Wigeon

Both males and females have a bluish black-tipped bill. Male American wigeons have a white patch from the forehead to the middle of the crown and an iridescent green band from the eye to the back of the head. They have a pinkish-brown breast and sides that are separated from the black undertail coverts by white flank feathers. In flight, the white shoulder patch is diagnostic. The legs and feet are blue-gray to dark gray. Female American wigeons have a gray head with a brownish-black crown and brownish chest and sides. The legs and feet are blue-gray to dark gray.

Blue-winged Teal

Male blue-winged teal have a slate gray head and neck, a black-edged white crescent in front of the eyes and a blackish crown. The breast and sides are tan with dark brown speckles and there is a white spot on the side of the rump. Most of the upper wing coverts are blue-gray, the secondaries form an iridescent green speculum and the underwing is whitish. The bill is black and the legs and feet are yellowish to orange. Female blue-winged teal have a brownish-gray head with a darker crown and eye stripe. The breast and sides are brown, the upper parts are olive brown, and the upper wing coverts are bluish, but less vibrant than the drake. The bill is gray-black and the legs and feet are dull yellow-brown. The female has a high-pitched squeak.

Cinnamon Teal

Male cinnamon teal have a cinnamon-red head, neck, breast and belly. They have an iridescent green speculum, which is separated from a bluish shoulder patch by a white stripe. The back, rump, uppertail coverts and tail are a dull brown and the undertail coverts are black. They have a distinctive red eye, a black bill and yellow legs and feet. Female cinnamon teal are often confused with female blue-winged teal. They have a duller blue shoulder patch, an overall rustier color and are more heavily streaked.

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian wigeons often can be found in the company of American Wigeons. The male's bright russet-red head, topped with a cream stripe, and its gray back and sides, distinguish it from its American cousin. Females of the two species are so similar that separation in the field is unreliable. However, adult female Eurasian wigeons have two color phases: gray and red. Females in reddish plumage have russet-brown heads, necks, chests, backs, sides and flanks, with a much redder tinge than female American wigeons. Male Eurasian Wigeon have a black-speckled russet-red neck and head topped with a cream stripe. The breast is grayish-pink and the lower breast, belly and sides of the rear body behind the flanks are white. The flanks are finely vermiculated and appear gray. In flight, a white shoulder patch and green speculum are displayed. The bill is blue-gray with a black tip and the legs and feet are blue-gray. Female Eurasian wigeon have gray-brown-to-russet-brown heads, necks, chests, backs, sides and flanks. The bill is blue-gray with a black tip and the legs and feet are blue-gray.


Gadwalls are medium-sized ducks characterized by a general lack of bright coloration. Male gadwalls are gray-brown with a white belly and a black rump. In flight, a white speculum and chestnut and black portions on the wing coverts are displayed. The bill is slate-gray and the legs and feet are yellow. Female gadwalls are similar to males, but have a mottled brown appearance, a yellowish bill with dark spots and a smaller white speculum.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged teal are the smallest of our North American dabbling ducks with a short neck and small bill. Male green-winged teal have a chestnut head with an iridescent green to purple patch extending from the eyes to the nape of the neck. The chest is pinkish-brown with black speckles, and the back, sides and flanks are vermiculated gray, separated from the chest by a white bar. The wing coverts are brownish-gray with a green speculum. The bill is dark slate and the legs and feet are dark gray. Female green-winged teal are mottled brown with a dark brown line that extends from the bill through the eye. The bill is dark gray and the legs and feet are olive-gray to brownish-gray.


The mallard is one of the most recognized of all ducks and is the ancestor of several domestic breeds. Its wide range has given rise to several distinct populations. The male mallard's white neck-ring separates the green head from the chestnut-brown chest, contrasts with the gray sides, brownish back, black rump and black upper- and under-tail coverts. The speculum is violet-blue bordered by black and white, and the outer tail feathers are white. The bill is yellow to yellowish-green and the legs and feet are coral-red. The female mallard is a mottled brownish color and has a violet speculum bordered by black and white. The crown of the head is dark brown with a dark brown stripe running through the eye. The remainder of the head is lighter brown than the upper body. The bill is orange splotched with brown, and the legs and feet are orange.

Mottled Duck

The Mottled duck can be confused with American Black ducks and hen mallards. While both drakes and hens have very similar plumages, the hen is a slightly lighter shade of brown. The mottled duck is a lighter color than the black duck and its blue to green iridescent wing patches (compared to a purple iridescence in black ducks) are rimmed with black (sometimes with a narrow band of white) rather than a distinct white edge as on the hen mallard. The mottled duck is a southern species found all along the entire Gulf Coast and the southern Atlantic Coast. The bill of the drake is solid yellow, while the hen has more of a yellow orangish tint with black spots. The legs and feet can be a dull to bright shade of orange for both sexes.

Northern Pintail

Northern pintails are long, slender ducks with long, narrow wings, earning them the nickname "greyhound of the air." Pintails are named for their elongated central tail feathers, which constitute one-fourth of the drake's body length. Male northern pintails have a chocolate-brown head with a white stripe on each side of the neck extending up from the white breast and belly. The back is blackish-gray and the rump has a white patch on each side. Two of the long central tail feathers are black while the others are gray margined by white. In flight, an iridescent greenish-black speculum is displayed. The bill is blue-gray with a black stripe along the center to the tip, and the legs and feet are slate-gray. Female northern pintails have a dark-brown upper body with a buff or gray head and lower body. The speculum is a dull brown or bronze. The bill is blue-gray blotched with black, and the legs and feet are slate-gray.

Northern Shoveler

Perhaps the most visible diagnostic characteristic of the northern shoveler is its large spoon-shaped bill, which widens towards the tip and creates a shape unique among North American waterfowl. Male northern shovelers have an iridescent green head and neck, white chest and breast and chestnut belly and sides. They have a white stripe extending from the breast along the margin of the gray-brown back, and white flank spots. The wings have a gray-blue shoulder patch, which is separated from a brilliant green speculum by a tapered white stripe. The bill is black in breeding plumage and the legs and feet are orange. Female northern shovelers have a light brownish head with a blackish crown and a brownish speckled body. The upper wing coverts are grayish-blue, the greater secondary coverts are tipped with white and the secondaries are brown with a slight greenish sheen. The bill is olive green with fleshy orange in the gape area and speckled with black dots.

Wood Duck

Male wood ducks have a crested head that is iridescent green and purple with a white stripe leading from the eye to the end of the crest, and another narrower white stripe from the base of the bill to the tip of the crest. The throat is white and the chest is burgundy with white flecks, gradually grading into a white belly. The bill is brightly patterned black, white and red. The legs and feet are a dull straw yellow and the iris is red. Female wood ducks have a gray-brown head and neck with a brownish, green, glossed crest. A white teardrop shaped patch surrounds the brownish-black eye. The throat is white and the breast is gray-brown stippled with white, fading into the white belly. The back is olive brown with a shimmer of iridescent green. The bill is blue-gray and the legs and feet are dull grayish-yellow.