Waterfowl ID - Learn About All Types of Ducks & Waterfowl

Your guide to waterfowl identification, behaviors, and habitats

Dabbling DucksView All

View the Mallard on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Mallard

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mexican Duck

Mexican ducks are similar to mallards in size and resemble a mottled duck or female mallard in coloration. Males and females are similar in appearance, although males generally have an olive-green bill while females have orange bills with dark spots. The head is a lighter color than the richly brown body, and the speculum is blueish green. Feet and legs are bright orange.

 

 

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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.

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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.

View the Cinnamon Teal on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

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.

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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.

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Gadwall

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.

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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.

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Diving DucksView All

View the Canvasback on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Canvasback

Male canvasbacks have a chestnut-red head and neck, a black breast, grayish back, black rump and blackish-brown tail. The sides, flank and belly are white, while the wing coverts are grayish and vermiculated with black. The bill is blackish and the legs and feet are bluish-gray. The iris is bright red in the spring, but duller in the winter. Female canvasbacks have a light brown head and neck, grading into a darker brown chest and foreback. The sides, flanks and back are grayish-brown. The bill is blackish and the legs and feet are bluish-gray.

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Redhead

Male redheads have a reddish head and upper neck with a black lower neck, foreback and breast. The remaining back is a dark grayish color. The hind back and tail are brownish-black. A broad band of light gray extends across the dusky gray wing and out onto the primaries, which helps distinguish it from scaup. The legs and feet are gray, and the bill is light blue-gray with a whitish band behind a relatively wide black tip. Female redheads have a reddish-brown head, neck and breast, with a buff white chin and throat and an indistinct eye ring and stripe behind the eye. The flanks are warm brown, contrasting little with the breast, but with buffer fringes. The upper parts are darker and duller brown, with the upper-wing-coverts browner than on the male; otherwise the wing is similar to that of the male. The bill is duller than the male's, but similar in pattern.

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Ring-necked Duck

Although male ring-necked ducks superficially resemble their counterparts in greater and lesser scaup, their peaked, angular head profile, distinctive white bill markings and uniformly dark upper wings distinguish them. Female ring-necked ducks most closely resemble female redheads, but are distinguished by their smaller size; peaked, angular head profile; and pale region around the face. Male ring-necked ducks have an iridescent black head, neck, breast and upperparts. The belly and flanks are whitish to grayish, with a distinctive triangular white wedge extending upward in the area in front of the folded wing. The bill is slate with a white border around the base and nares, and a pale white band behind the black tip.

The "ringneck" name is derived from a faint brownish ring around the base of the neck, which is visible only upon close inspection. The legs and feet are gray-blue and the iris is yellow. Ring-necked ducks are silent except in display, when a low whistling note is uttered. Female ring-necked ducks have a brown head with a black crown, light brown cheeks and chin and a white eye ring. A narrow white line extends from the eye to the back of the head. The bill is slate with a faint white band near the tip. The neck, back, sides and flanks are brown and the belly is white. The legs and feet are gray-blue and the iris is brown. Female vocalizes a soft, rolling "trrr."

View the Greater Scaup on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Greater Scaup

Greater and lesser scaup are often found together, but the larger size of the greater scaup is very obvious. Male greater scaup also have a larger, more rounded head than male lesser scaup. Male greater scaup tend to have a glossy black head tinted green, although head color can vary and is not a reliable distinguishing feature. The neck, breast and upper mantle are glossy black, and the flanks and belly are white, sometimes with gray vermiculations on the lower flanks. The back is whitish with fine black vermiculations, and the tail and upper- and under-tail coverts are black. The wing has a broad white speculum, with white extending into the primaries. This contrasts with lesser scaup, in which the white is restricted to the speculum. The bill is a light blue-gray with a black nail, both of which are larger in greater scaup than lesser scaup. The legs and feet are gray and the iris is yellow. Female greater scaup are brown with white oval patches around their bills. The female's bill is similar to that of the male, but slightly duller, and the legs and feet are gray.

View the Lesser Scaup on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Lesser Scaup

Lesser and greater scaup are often found together. The smaller size of the lesser scaup is very obvious. Lesser scaup also have a smaller, less-round, purple-tinted head than greater scaup. Male lesser scaup have a glossy black head with a purple cast. The neck, breast and upper mantle are glossy black. Vermiculations on the sides and flanks are olive brown and contrast with the white chest and belly. The back is light gray with broad heavy vermiculations of sooty black. The tail, upper and under-tail coverts are black. The wing has a white speculum and the inner primaries are light brown, becoming darker towards the tips and outer primaries. The bill is a light blue-gray with a black nail, the legs and feet are gray and the iris is yellow. Female lesser scaup have a brownish head, neck and chest, and white oval patches around their bills. The back, rump and scapulars are dark brown and the speculum is white. The bill is similar to that of the male but slightly duller, the legs and feet are gray and the iris is yellow.

View the Steller's Eider on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Steller's Eider

The Steller's eider is the smallest and fastest flying of the eiders. Its appearance is puddle-duck-like, with a head and bill reminiscent of a mallard. Male Steller's eiders have a white head with a black eye spot and a pale green patch on the crown. The wing resembles that of a wigeon, but the white shoulder patch is larger and is bordered by a blue rather than a green speculum. The chest is chestnut, and the side of the breast is marked with a circular black spot. The throat and back are black, and the bill, legs and feet are a blue-gray. Female Steller's eiders have dark brown mottled plumage and a pale buff eye ring. The speculum is blue with a white border on each side, similar to the mallard. The bill, legs and feet are blue-gray.

View the Spectacled Eider on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Spectacled Eider

In both sexes, the feathers extend down to the nostrils, a characteristic not found in the other eiders. Male spectacled eiders are striking, with a pale green head, bright orange bill and the characteristic white spectacle-like patches around the eyes. The chest, rump, tail and belly are black, and the throat, neck and back are white. The legs and feet are yellow-brown and the iris of the eye is pale blue. Female spectacled eiders are a tawny color, similar to the female king and common eiders, with a gray-blue bill and light brown spectacles around their blue eyes. The legs and feet are yellow-brown.

View the King Eider on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

King Eider

Male king eiders have a black lower back, rump, scapulars, tail coverts, breast, belly and sides. The tail is brown-black and the bill is orange, sweeping upward into an orange frontal shield outlined in black with a pale blue crest. The neck, chest and foreback are creamy white. They have a white patch at the base of the tail and in the forepart of the upper wings. The legs and feet are dull yellow to orange. Female king eiders are tawny-brown, barred with dusky brown chevrons ("V" marks) that can be similar in color to common eiders. The bill and facial skin are a dark olive-gray and the legs and feet are grayish.

View the Common Eider on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Common Eider

Common eiders are the largest duck found in the northern hemisphere. They are stocky, thick-necked birds that hold their heads below body level during flight. Male common eiders have a primarily white head, neck, chest and back. The breast, belly, sides, rump, tail coverts and tail are black. The crown and forehead have a black cap, while the cheeks are pale green and are used in breeding displays. A white round spot occurs on the black flank just forward of the tail. The head has a distinct sloping profile. The bill is olive-gray, turning yellowish near the facial area, and the legs and feet are grayish-green. Female common eiders are russet-brown to gray. All are heavily barred with dark brown lines on their backs, chests, breasts, sides and flanks. The head has a distinct sloping profile. The bill is olive-gray to olive-yellow and the legs and feet are grayish.

View the Harlequin Duck on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Harlequin Duck

The male Harlequin is very distinct and can be confused with no other waterfowl species. The basic body color is a deep slate blue, enlivened by white stripes, crescents and spots on the head, neck and scapulars. The sides and flanks are chestnut colored. The bill is blue-gray with a pale nail and the legs and feet are grayish. Female Harlequin ducks resemble female buffleheads: Except for the three white spots on the head, the hen's basic color is black-brown. There also is an oblong white spot behind the eye instead of the circular one seen on buffleheads. Female Harlequins are also duskier and larger and, in flight, show no white patches on their wings, as buffleheads do.

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GeeseView All

View the Emperor Goose on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Emperor Goose

Male and female emperor geese have gray body plumage that is subtly barred with black and white. The white head and hindneck, which are often stained orange-red from feeding in tidal ponds where iron oxide is concentrated, contrast markedly with the dark foreneck. Contrast distinguishes this goose from the blue-morph snow goose, whose entire foreneck and chin are white like the head. The emperor goose's short bill is pink and lacks the black "grinning patch" present in blue geese. The legs and feet of the emperor goose are yellow-orange, while those of the blue goose are pink.

View the Snow Goose on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Snow Goose

The greater snow goose is a slightly larger version of the white-phase lesser snow goose. No color dimorphism has been discovered in this race. In the field it is virtually impossible to tell these two apart. In the hand, the larger size and longer bill of the greater snow goose distinguish it from its smaller counterpart. The sexes are similar in appearance, but the female is often smaller.

 

Lesser snow geese have two color phases: a dark (blue) plumage and a white (snow) plumage. The two color phases are variations within the same race and do not indicate separate races. The sexes are similar in appearance in both phases, but the female is often smaller. Lesser snow geese can hybridize with Ross' geese, which are similar in appearance. They have pinkish bills with black grinning patches, and the feet and legs are reddish-pink. In the dark phase they have white heads and upper necks, with bluish-gray bodies. In the white phase they are completely white except for black wing tips. The head can be stained rusty brown from minerals in the soil where they feed. They are very vocal and can often be heard from more than a mile away.

View the Ross's Goose on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Ross's Goose

Ross' geese are the smallest of the three varieties of white geese that breed in North America. The Ross' goose is a small white goose with black primary feathers. The bill is a deep reddish-pink with a paler nail and a variably bluish warty area over the base of the basal area. The legs and feet are rose-pink and the iris is dark brown. The sexes are dimorphic, with the female being 6 percent smaller than the male. The Ross' goose has a relatively short neck and lacks the black "grinning patch" that is typical of greater and lesser snow geese, for which it is often mistaken. Ross' geese may be distinguished from snow geese by their smaller size, more rapid wing beat and higher-pitched call.

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Greater White-fronted Goose

The Greater white-fronted goose is named for the distinctive white band found at the base of bill. The sexes are similar in appearance, but males typically are larger. The head, neck and upper back of white-fronted geese are grayish-brown. The lower back and rump are dark brown, and the tail is dark brown and edged with white. The chest and breast are grayish with dark brown to black blotches and bars on the breast, giving it the nickname "specklebelly." The belly and upper and lower coverts are white. The bill is pinkish and the legs and feet are orange. Greater white-fronted geese are a long-lived species, with one individual holding the current longevity record for North American waterfowl at 34 years and 7 months.

View the Brant on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Brant

In North America, two subspecies of brant are recognized, mostly due to differences in plumage characteristics. Atlantic or Pacific (black) brant are separated into subpopulations inhabiting distinct ranges and having genetic variation. Brant are small, dark geese that have large wings, which give them their characteristic strong flight.

Brant have short necks, small heads and bills. All subspecies have a black head, bill, breast, primaries, tail and legs. The otherwise black neck has a series of white striations, called a necklace, near the middle. The color of the belly varies according to subspecies and subpopulation. Both sexes are identical in plumage, except that the male's white necklace is larger than the female's.

View the Barnacle Goose on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle geese have a black chest, neck and crown, with a cream-white face. The sexes are similar in appearance, but males typically are larger. The extension of black from the neck over the head gives the face a hooded appearance. The upper back is black, shading posterior to silver-gray. The breast, sides and flanks are a pale gray and the belly, undertail coverts and rump are white, contrasting markedly with the large black tail. The bill, legs and feet are black.

View the Cackling Goose on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Cackling Goose

Cackling geese resemble Canada geese in appearance. Male cackling geese are slightly larger than females, with both sexes having long, black necks with white chinstraps. The breast, abdomen and flanks range in coloring from a light gray to a dark chocolate brown, either blending into the black neck or being separated from it by a wide white collar. The back and scapulars are darker brown, the rump is blackish and the tail is blackish-brown with a U-shaped white band on the rump. The bill, legs and feet are black.

Cackling geese are a small-bodied group of four subspecies, consisting of the Aleutian, Cackling, Taverner's and Richardson's geese. Cackling geese have proportionally smaller, stubbier, triangular-shaped bills than their Canada goose counterparts.

View the Canada Goose on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Canada Goose

Both sexes of Canada geese have a black head and neck except for broad white cheek patches extending from the throat to the rear of the eye. The female of a breeding pair is often smaller. The breast, abdomen and flanks range in coloring from a light gray to a dark chocolate brown, either blending into the black neck or being separated from it by a white collar. The back and scapulars are darker brown, the rump is blackish and the tail is blackish-brown with a U-shaped white band on the rump. The bill, legs and feet are black. Most subspecies are uniformly large and pale and exhibit the characteristic "honking" call.

There are 7 recognized subspecies of Canada geese: Atlantic, Hudson Bay or Interior, Giant, Moffitt's or Great Basin, Lesser, Dusky and Vancouver. In general, the subspecies nesting farther north are smaller in size and darker in color to the west. The Giant Canada goose is the largest goose in the world, with some individuals weighing more than 20 pounds. They can also be long-lived, with a banded Canada goose at 33 years currently holding the 2nd oldest longevity record for all North American waterfowl.
 

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Hawaiian Goose

Hawaiian geese have a black face and crown and cream-colored cheeks. The neck is pale grayish streaked with black and has a narrow dark ring at the base. The body plumage and folded wings are gray-brown with transverse barring. The bill, legs and feet are black and the iris is dark brown. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but males typically are larger.

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Other Waterfowl and Wetland BirdsView All

View the Tundra Swan on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Tundra Swan

The plumage of adult tundra swans is completely white, though their heads and necks are often stained a rusty color from ferrous minerals encountered in marsh soils during feeding. The bill is black and often has a yellow spot at the base. The legs and feet are black and the iris is dark brown. Both sexes are identical in appearance, but males typically are larger. The tundra swan is smaller than the trumpeter swan, but it is difficult to separate them in the field. The tundra swan's call is high-pitched and reminiscent of snow geese, while the trumpeter swan's call is more vociferous and has been likened to the sound of a French horn.

View the Trumpeter Swan on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Trumpeter Swan

The plumage of adult trumpeter swans is completely white, though their heads and necks are often stained a rusty color from contact with ferrous minerals in the soils of wetland bottoms during feeding. The bill, legs and feet are black and the iris is brown. Both sexes are identical in appearance, but males typically are larger. The trumpeter swan is larger than the similar tundra swan, but it is difficult to separate them in the field. The trumpeter swan's call is more vociferous than that of the tundra swan and has been likened to the sound of a French horn. The tundra swan's call is high-pitched and reminiscent of snow geese.

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Mute Swan

Originating in Eurasia, the Mute swan is currently an invasive species in North America due to multiple deliberate introductions. The species is very large with all white plumage and long necks. They are identifiable from other swans by black knobs at the base of their beaks. Mute swans have black feet and orange beaks. Juveniles can range from the typical white plumage to a grayish brown plumage. The grayish brown can also apply to their bill and feet while juveniles. Regardless of age, the Mute Swan is a very aggressive species and will attack native waterfowl as well as species as large as humans.

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Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Adult fulvous whistling-ducks of both sexes have a rufous-brown crown and upper nape, which becomes blackish down the center of the hindneck. The sides of the head, neck, chest and belly are a rich rufous-buff, with the sides of the neck paler, almost whitish, with fine dark striations. The back is dark brown with chestnut feather fringes, and the rump is white. Ivory-edged side and flank feathers form a striking border between the sides and back. A distinctive white "V" separates the brownish-black tail from the dark-colored back. The bill, legs and feet are blue-gray and the iris is dark brown.

View the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Male and female black-bellied whistling-ducks are similar in size and color. In general, black-bellied whistling-ducks are long-legged, long-necked and the most erect of all ducks. They have a black belly with a chestnut nape, lower neck, chest, and back. A chestnut cap tops the head. They boast a bright orange bill, gray face, and upper neck and white eye ring. The long pink legs are easily observed while they are perched in trees.

View the American Coot on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

American Coot

While the American coot resembles a duck, it is not actually a duck species. Coots have chicken-like beaks, legs, and feet. Both drake and hen coots are grey in color but appear black from a distance. Their beaks are white with a faint red strip near the tip. The easiest way to tell the sex of a coot is its voice.

View the Sandhill Crane on Ducks Unlimited's Waterfowl ID

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes are long and tall with thick heavy bodies. Both males and females have gray plumage and can’t easily be sexed by physical appearance, although males tend to be slightly larger.

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