Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Lily Aldrin
Have you ever wondered about the feathered friends flocking at your local pond?
California is home to a diverse array of ducks, each with its own distinct features, behaviors, and habitats.
From the colorful Mallards to the elusive Wood Ducks, this state boasts a thriving duck population that never fails to amaze.
In this article, we dive into the top 10 types of ducks that call California their home, giving you an in-depth look at the feathered wonders that make this state such a special place for birdwatching enthusiasts.
Types of Ducks in California
1. Eurasian Wigeon
Eurasian wigeons are easily distinguished from other dabbling ducks due to the striking contrast between their cinnamon-red forehead and blue-gray beak and the brilliant, creamy spot on top of their heads.
Both their backs and sides are grey in color.
The undersides of their wings are green, while their upper chests are pink in color.
The undersides of the females’ bodies appear white, and they have scaly brown markings all over.
During the winter, Eurasian Wigeon has been seen in a few locations in the United States.
The tidal flats, wet grasslands, marshes, lakes, and ponds of Eurasia are home to the Eurasian Wigeon.
When searching for food, Eurasian wigeons will flock with other dabbling ducks.
Their diet consists mostly of aquatic plants that grow at or near the water’s surface.
Additionally, Eurasian wigeons prefer lounging on land, and they have been known to steal food from many other ducks when they come up for air after a meal.
The nests of Eurasian wigeons are typically small depressions in the ground that are concealed by vegetation.
Nests are typically made by females and are located near bodies of water, utilizing materials like feathers and grass.
Females lay approximately 7 to 9 eggs.
They have an incubation period of around 25 days, after which the young require another month or so to develop flight feathers.
The male mallard ducks are easily distinguished by their emerald green heads.
Besides having yellow beaks, these birds are mostly grey overall, with brownish chests and a mostly black tail.
They possess a speculum (a blue spot on the wing having a white border) and a curve of tail plumes.
The females and young birds lack the male’s blue speculum and have a speckled brown color having orange bills.
As for the western coasts of Alaska and Canada and the lower 48 states, mallards stay there throughout the year.
They migrate from their breeding grounds across Alaska and Canada toward northern Mexico and the southern United States.
Among the most known ducks, mallards may be found in ponds and rivers, where they will gladly accept handouts.
They are non-diving, plant-eating, dabbling ducks.
They possess a long life expectancy, with the oldest known individual being 28 years old.
Mallards build their nests on land, usually near water. Made in a dip on the ground and stuffed with plants gathered from the vicinity, they are often concealed by overhanging grass.
When their clutch of twelve to fourteen eggs finally hatches after three to four weeks, the young ducks are about ready for flight.
Most of the ducks we eat today are related to the Mallard, and they’ve been tamed for that purpose via hunting and breeding.
3. Northern Shoveler
The male Northern Shoveler is easily recognized by his bright green head and massive black spoon-shaped beak.
There is a black back and a white side and breasts to these creatures.
In addition, males possess bluish spots on their wings.
Females have a huge orange beak and a blue wing band on their patchy brown bodies.
Northern shovelers migrate southward throughout the winter, following the coasts of Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
During the summertime, they make the long journey to the western part of the northwest states of the United States and Canada, where they reproduce.
The Great Lakes region is home to breeding populations of this species.
Northern shovelers may congregate in small groups in slow-moving water.
Shovelers filter out invertebrates, crustaceans, and even a few seeds from the water they eat by churning up the bottom and sweeping their bills from side to side.
To extract the food, they use lamellae, comblike extensions along the top of their bills, to force the water out.
The hooking or taking cries of male Northern Shovelers are easily recognized. All women quack their noses.
The nesting grounds of Northern Shovelers are ground, and they are often located in dense, short vegetation near water.
It takes about three to four weeks for the eggs they lay to hatch. It doesn’t take long for the ducklings to learn to walk and swim.
Foraging Northern Shovelers will gather huge numbers and swim in circles to agitate the seafloor.
4. Blue-winged Teal
The blue-winged teal is a tiny duck belonging to the Anatidae family.
The front of their blue skull is crescent-shaped and white.
Brown spots cover their whole body, from their breast to their tail.
After spreading their wings, you can see a unique blue spot on their shoulders outlined in white and green.
Females possess the same scaled brown design as males but lack the males’ characteristic white facial markings.
Following successful breeding seasons in Canada and the United States, Blue-winged Teals migrate to warmer climates in Mexico and the southern United States, as well as the Caribbean and Central and Northern South America.
Blue-winged Teals like slow-moving or still water; thus, wetlands and lakes with outcropping vegetation and rock structures are ideal habitats for them.
They also prefer to settle in bodies of shallow water that are surrounded by plenty of vegetation, such as swamps and marshes.
They go to the north during the mating season when parks and prairies are full of life.
Aquatic plants floating on the water’s surface are the primary food source for blue-winged teals.
In the mating season, they might even devour aquatic insects.
A common place to find a Blue-winged Teal nest is in a depression dug into the earth, usually near a body of water and hidden from view by long grasses.
Its walls are made of grass and weeds, and its top is made of down.
The female may hatch a maximum of fifteen eggs, which she will then tend for two to three weeks.
Young ducks may start to walk a few hours following hatching, but they won’t be capable of flying for another 6 to 7 weeks.
Due to their extensive transoceanic migrations, Blue-winged Teals have the highest death rate of any dabbling duck.
5. American Wigeon
The American wigeon is a tiny duck that has white caps and green stripes mostly on the sides of its head.
The remaining ones have a brownish-grey color.
Brown bodies and grayish-brown heads characterize the females.
Both sexes have the same white coloration on their beaks.
The breeding grounds of the American widgeon are mostly across the northwesterly states of the United States, Alaska, and western Canada.
They migrate to the southern and central United States as well as the shores of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to spend the winter.
American Wigeon may be found in lakes, marshes, and fields, where it feeds on plants both underwater and on the ground.
Additionally, they will consume insects and other invertebrates.
The American wigeon makes a rough grunting sound while the males emit high-pitched whistles.
The American wigeon lays her eggs on the ground, distant from any body of water, in meadows and farms.
The female prepares a nest of down plumage, grass, and reeds in a dip in the ground, where she will deposit anywhere from 11 to 14 eggs.
They are almost quickly evicted from the nest.
Baldpate is a common nickname for American wigeons due to the resemblance between the bird’s white stripe and a bald head.
6. Wood Duck
The heads of male Wood Ducks are a gorgeous shade of green, and they possess a prominent crest that stands out at the rear.
They also have white and black patterns, and their eyes are bright red.
They have chests that comprise a reddish-brown tint, flanks that are buff, tails, and backs that are brown, white patterns, and blue flashes all over their bodies.
The females appear brown with heads that are a brownish-gray color, and they have white around their black eyes.
On their wings, in the shape of speculums, there are blue spots.
The Pacific Coast, the eastern states of the United States, and some regions of the northwest are home to the Wood Duck.
Migrating southward during the winter, wood ducks are found across the southern states of the United States and Mexico.
Wood Ducks nest mostly in the north near the border with Canada.
The Wood Duck is a species of duck that lives in forested swamps and feeds on insects, seeds, and fruit.
Although they mostly feed in the water, they may occasionally forage on land in woodlands and fields.
Nests of Wood Ducks are often built in tree holes, are located relatively close to bodies of water, and may be as high as sixty feet from the ground.
Down feathers are removed from the chests of the females and used to line the nest.
They may lay about eighteen eggs, and it takes about four and five weeks for them hatching of eggs.
The hatchlings use the claws on their feet to crawl out of the egg, and then they leap out of the nest.
The gadwall is a big dabbling duck with a distinctive pattern despite its relatively subdued colors.
Gadwalls are more subdued in appearance than other colorful dabbling ducks, having dark-brown blackheads, scaled markings on the shoulder and breast, white or grey on the belly, and black bottoms.
A white spot on their wings becomes visible only while they are flying.
The scale patterns on the breast, back, shoulders, and bottom of females are less distinct and more uniformly brown.
The plains of North America are where gadwalls breed, and later they migrate toward Mexico and the central and southern United States.
For others, the West Coast is home for the whole year.
Gadwalls inhabit open marshes, meadows, and wetlands that have a lot of flora.
Gadwalls are common sights among urban parks, saltwater marshes, muddy estuaries, and reservoirs throughout the winter months.
The gadwalls feed themselves by wading around in the water.
They’ll put their heads underwater until they’re close enough to the greenery to grab it.
On occasion, they may switch to a diet of insects.
Short, reedy whistles are accompanied by a quack from a male Gadwall.
The females make a quacking noise that is reminiscent of a mallard’s.
The nests of gadwalls are notoriously difficult to locate due to their preference for secluded areas amid thick foliage close to water.
Fabricated with grass and weeds and stuffed with plumage.
A maximum of fifteen eggs might be found in one nest. For roughly twenty-seven days, the female incubates the eggs.
8. Northern Pintail
Ducks, known as Northern Pintails, are distinguished by their long, pointed tails.
The males possess a striking white stripe that runs vertically down their necks, contrasting with their beautiful brown heads.
They possess markings on their back that are composed of black, white, and grey, and their bodies appear white.
A band of green may be seen on their wings while in flight.
The bodies of the females are covered in complex scale patterns, and they have a brown coloration. Additionally, they possess a brown spot on each of their wings.
The Northern Pintail spends its breeding season across Alaska, Canada, and the Midwest of the United States before migrating toward the coastal and southern states.
It is possible to see Northern Pintails coexisting with other species of ducks across prairies, open wetlands, agricultural areas, and wetlands.
It is known to forage on the shores of ponds and lakes, although it has also been seen swimming in broad water with some other ducks.
They will visit protected estuaries, brackish marshes, and coastal lagoons in order to spend the winter there.
When it comes to searching for food in shallow water, Northern Pintails have a significant edge over ducks.
They are able to reach a depth of 12 inches deeper into the water than some other ducks due to their long necks.
They nourish themselves on the seeds and roots of aquatic plants.
They also consume the grains and seeds that are found across agricultural areas.
They consume a greater quantity of animals for protein during the time of year when they are reproducing.
This includes aquatic insects and mollusks such as snails.
Nests of Northern Pintails are often located in ground depressions that are just a few centimeters deep and are situated in close proximity to a body of water.
They are constructed from feathers and grasses and provide a home for at least twelve eggs in each one.
They are incubated by the female for approximately twenty-five days, and as soon as they hatch, she leads them to the water so they may fend for themselves by eating insects in the surrounding area.
They are able to fly in around fifty days, but they’ll not leave the nest till the mother has finished her molting process.
The Northern Pintail is a bird that is often pursued for the purpose of providing a difficult target for game shooters due to its agility and quickness.
9. Cinnamon Teal
The male breeding population of Cinnamon Teals is the inspiration for the bird’s common name.
During the mating season, they change to a uniform shade of cinnamon, and even their eyes become a vibrant shade of red.
They possess scaly reddish-brown areas on their backs.
Their light blue shoulder is divided from the green underwing by a thin white line.
During the winter season, males shed their shiny coats and take on the appearance of females.
The females have a brownish color throughout, with a scaly patch on the back, breast, and abdomen.
Breeding ranges for the cinnamon teal include southern Canada and the western United States.
Some ducks winter in Mexico, South America, and the southern United States.
Cinnamon Teal may be found near lakes and marshes with fresh water.
As members of the Dabbling Duck family, Cinnamon Teals subsist mostly on mollusks, aquatic insects, and crustaceans that they obtain when foraging in shallow waters.
They devour aquatic insects, fish larvae, and various plant seeds.
They could choose to explore deeper water close below the surface in search of submerged flora.
Cinnamon Teal nests are typically on the ground, often located in dense forests near water.
Softened with feathers, the nests are composed of grass.
In a nest, about twelve eggs might well be laid, and that clutch for up to 25 days before hatching.
Young birds learn the abilities they need to fly independently after around 50 days.
10. Green-winged Teal
Small, pond-frequenting ducks with green wings. There is a green slash along the middle of the male’s skull. Other than the tops of their heads, which are brown, their bodies are dark grey.
The females appear brown overall, with a yellowish stripe running down the back of their tails.
The wing pattern of both sexes is green.
The vast majority of Green-winged Teal leave their breeding areas across the northern United States, Alaska, and Canada and travel south, eventually making their way to the Pacific Coast.
While some ducks migrate south for the winter, others stay mostly in the Rocky Mountains year-round.
Green-winged Teal may be seen in flocks of approximately 50,000 in flooded areas and small lakes.
Mostly seeds and insects make up their diet.
The Green-winged Teal nests on the ground, usually in tall grass or a thicket.
Green-winged Teal males may be heard chatting and whistling while females quack loudly and melodically.
Green-winged Teal lay their eggs on the ground in grassy areas and pastures near bodies of water.
They may lay a maximum of nine eggs, which take around three weeks to develop into chicks.
They may start swimming virtually as soon as the ducklings quit the nest.
In conclusion, California is truly a haven for duck enthusiasts, offering a rich and diverse range of species that can be found throughout the state.
From the majestic Mallards to the elusive Wood Ducks, each of the 10 types of ducks highlighted in this article have its own unique characteristics that make them truly special.
Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or just starting out, taking the time to learn about these feathered friends will surely enrich your appreciation for the natural beauty and wildlife of California.
So grab your binoculars, hit the trails, and start exploring the wonderful world of ducks in California today!
What is the best time of year to see ducks in California?
The best time to see ducks in California is during the winter months, when many migratory species flock to the state. However, resident species can be seen year-round.
Do ducks migrate to California?
Yes, many species of ducks migrate to California each year, especially during the winter months when the state’s milder climate and abundant food sources provide ideal conditions for these birds.
How can I identify different types of ducks in California?
You can identify different types of ducks by their physical characteristics, such as size, coloration, and markings, as well as their behavior and habitat. A field guide or online resource can also help you learn to identify different species of ducks.
Are there any endangered duck species in California?
Yes, there are several endangered duck species in California, including the Harlequin Duck and the Steller’s Eider. Conservation efforts are underway to help protect these species and their habitats.