13 Types Of Ducks – Beginner’s Guide To Duck Identification

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Ducks are some of the most colorful and diverse birds found in nature. From the familiar quack of the Mallard to the striking elegance of the Mandarin, each type of duck brings its own unique charm.

Whether they’re gliding gracefully on a pond or waddling on land, ducks captivate us with their varied appearances and behaviors.

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of ducks and explore the array of species that brighten up our waterways and skies.

Key Points

1. Ducks are diverse and colorful birds with unique characteristics.

2. Mallards are adaptable and the most common duck worldwide.

3. Wood Ducks are known for striking colors and adaptability to wooded streams.

4. Northern Pintails are graceful and rapid fliers with zig-zagging flight patterns.

Different Types of Duck Species

Let’s learn about the diverse and enchanting world of duck breeds, exploring a variety of species, each with their unique characteristics and charm.

1. Mallard

The mallard is the world’s most common duck, with most domestic ducks descending from it. Adaptable, they thrive in urban areas.

Male mallards, known as greenheads, mainly winter in the lower Mississippi basin and along the Gulf Coast, staying north as long as waters remain open. They feed in fields during early morning and late afternoon, returning to marshes and creeks at night.

Their flight is moderate in speed, and while hens quack loudly, drakes have a lower-pitched kwek-kwek sound.

2. Wood Duck

duck types

Male American Wood Ducks have a metallic green/blue crest, with a white line from the beak over the eye. Females are less colorful, with grey-brown plumage, brown eyes, a yellow eye ring, a white eye patch, a whitish throat, and a grey beak.

Wood Ducks are present in all flyways but are most abundant in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, with fewer in the Central Flyway. They migrate early, typically leaving northern states by mid-November.

Known as the most colorful North American waterfowl, male Wood Ducks inhabit wooded streams and ponds and can perch in trees. Skilled at flying through dense forests, their flight is fast and direct, and they usually travel in small flocks. They feed on the surface of aquatic plants, vegetation, berries, seeds, and insects.

3. Northern Pintail

kinds of ducks

These ducks are found across all four flyways, with the highest numbers in the west. Known for their graceful and rapid flight, they often zig-zag from high altitudes before smoothly landing.

Their diet consists of aquatic plants, seeds, sedges, pondweed, mollusks, crustaceans, and some aquatic insects. Northern Pintails inhabit open wetlands, wet grasslands, lakesides, or tundra and are widespread across North America, Europe, and Asia.

4. Canvasback

types of duck

The Canvasback duck, a large and elegant diving duck species in North America, is distinguished by its big head and stout neck. Its unique feature is the gently sloping forehead, seamlessly blending into a long bill, creating a continuous line from the crown to the bill’s tip.

In the water, the Canvasback displays an oval body and a short, gently sloping tail. Known as “bull-neck” and regarded as the “aristocrat of ducks,” it has a black bill, adding to its distinct appearance.

5. Redhead

how many types of ducks are there

Redheads are medium-sized diving ducks known for their smoothly rounded heads and moderately large bills. Weighing about 2 to 2.5 pounds and measuring 20-22 inches in length, they have grayish sides and back, a black chest and rump, and a white belly.

Their distinctive rusty red heads, gray bills with a white band near the tip, gray feet, and lemon-yellow eyes make them easily recognizable. While they typically dive for food, they prefer shallower waters compared to other diving ducks and may also feed by tipping up, similar to dabbling ducks.

6. Bufflehead

species of ducks

The Bufflehead is North America’s smallest diving duck, notable for its distinctive white and black head. Unlike many diving ducks, Buffleheads can take off directly from the water, flying straight up.

Males feature a prominent white patch on a puffy, greenish head. In flight, they are recognized by their small size, rapid wingbeats, and rocking motion from side to side.

Buffleheads are most commonly seen during migration and winter when they travel south to coastal areas and large bodies of water, especially favoring shallow saltwater bays.

7. Ruddy Duck

duck species

The Ruddy Duck, known for diving and swimming away from danger rather than flying, has a unique flight pattern where its small wings beat so rapidly that they resemble bumblebees.

These ducks can be identified by their white cheeks beneath a dark cap and a distinctively long, up-tilted tail. Widespread across North America, they primarily breed in the prairie pothole region and spend winters in wetlands across the U.S. and Mexico.

8. Harlequin Duck

duck pictures

The Harlequin Duck, with its striking plumage and dramatic habitats, stands out as one of North America’s most spectacular waterfowl species.

The males, adorned in blue, chestnut, and white, and the more subdued grayish females, primarily breed along turbulent whitewater rivers and spend winters on rugged, windswept coastal areas.

Their challenging lifestyle, often amidst rough waters, can be hard on their bodies, leading many Harlequin Ducks to endure broken bones over their lifetime.

9. Eider

dark colored ducks

This sea duck, large and heavyset, is characterized by a unique long, sloping frontal lobe of the bill that almost reaches the crown. They spend much of their day resting, particularly during high tides and are known for performing courtship displays in flocks from fall to spring.

Males are recognized by their quiet, dovelike calls. These ducks are typically found in maritime environments near rocky coastlines and nest in the tundra or taiga of the far north, often on smaller islands.

10. Green-winged Teal Duck

lists of ducks

These hardy birds often remain as far north as open waters allow. Characterized by their short, blocky bodies, their tails sit noticeably high out of the water. With a large head, short neck, and relatively small bill, they are the smallest and among the most common ducks.

Their diminutive size creates an impression of rapid movement, although mallards can actually fly faster. Their flight style is typically low and erratic, with flocks moving in unison, twisting and turning together.

11. Goldeneye

Goldeneye duck

Goldeneyes are distinguished by their golden-colored eyes, dark round heads, puffy crests, wing patches, and in males, a unique round white facial spot. They are active and strong fliers, often moving singly or in small flocks.

Their flight is notable for a distinctive wing-whistling sound, which has earned them the nickname “whistlers.” These large-headed ducks primarily dive for aquatic invertebrates and fish.

They nest in tree cavities within the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska and are found in winter along large rivers, lakes, and the coasts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf.

12. Common Merganser

duck breeds wild

These ducks are large and long-bodied with thin, pointed wings and straight, narrow bills, setting them apart from the wide, flat-billed typical ducks. Females feature shaggy crests on their heads.

Common Mergansers are adept divers, hunting fish underwater. After summer nesting, females stay with their growing chicks while males form flocks. In winter, they gather in large groups on inland reservoirs and rivers, staying together for feeding and courting in the colder months.

These ducks primarily inhabit freshwater rivers and lakes, rarely venturing into the ocean, though they may use saltwater estuaries in winter. They nest in tree cavities in northern forests close to rivers and lakes.

13. Northern Shoveler

duck names and pictures

The Northern Shoveler, aptly named for its distinctive shovel-shaped bill, stands out among dabbling ducks. This medium-sized duck often appears with its rear slightly elevated, giving the impression that its bill is pulling its front half down.

Commonly referred to as “spoonbills,” Northern Shovelers are early migrants departing at the onset of the first frost. They are most abundant in the Central and Pacific Flyways.

Their typical flight is smooth and direct, but when startled, they can twist and turn in the air with agility, reminiscent of teal ducks.


In the world of waterfowl, diversity reigns supreme, with each type of duck bringing its unique charm and characteristics to the avian tapestry. From the Harlequin Duck’s striking plumage to the Mallard’s adaptability, these ducks showcase the wonders of nature’s design.

Whether diving, dabbling, or soaring through the skies, each species plays a vital role in our ecosystems, reminding us of the beauty and resilience of our feathered friends.

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