18 Types of Ducks in North America (with Pictures)

Last Updated on October 24, 2022 by Lily Aldrin

Most non-birders associate ducks with the ordinary Mallard or numerous hybrid ducks were seen on local lakes. Birders are aware, however, that there are numerous species of ducks, only a handful of which contain the term “duck” in their name.

Although all of these ducks are members of the Anatidae bird family, the group of ducks is so varied that some duck species may be divided into smaller divisions based on how they appear and other common features.

Understanding the many sorts of duck groups and similar species may make recognizing ducks much simpler, and birders will learn to enjoy all ducks.

Here are the serval varieties of ducks in North America that every birder should be aware of.

ImageName
Ring-necked DuckRing-necked Duck
Northern Pintail DuckNorthern Pintail Duck
BuffleheadBufflehead
Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler
MallardMallard
RedheadRedhead
American WigeonAmerican Wigeon
Ruddy DuckRuddy Duck
GadwallGadwall
CanvasbackCanvasback
Fulvous Whistling-DuckFulvous Whistling-Duck
Blue-winged TealBlue-winged Teal
Black-bellied Whistling-DuckBlack-bellied Whistling-Duck
Mottled DuckMottled Duck
Wood DuckWood Duck
Cinnamon TealCinnamon Teal
Green-winged tealGreen-winged Teal
American Black DuckAmerican Black Duck

Types of Ducks in North America

1. Ring-necked Duck

Ring-Necked Duck

Duck of medium size with a pointed head. The bill of both sexes is grey with a white band as well as a black apex. Males have black heads, back, and breasts with grey sides.

The eyes are yellow. Females have a brownish appearance with a grey neck and face. Check for white bands around their black eyes.

The Ring-necked Duck does have a bad name that makes it hard to recognize. You’d assume there’d be a visible ring over their neck, but you’d be wrong!

The ring around their black necks is such a faint brown that it’s practically hard to see from afar.

Unlike many other diving ducks, these birds prefer Shallow lakes and marshes in North America.

During the mating season, you’ll normally only see each of them together, but in the winter, they congregate in flocks of hundreds of birds!

They are among the most likely ducks to consume leftover shotgun pellets, putting them at risk of lead poisoning. Although the lead shot was prohibited in 1991, which improved their population numbers, some old ammunition is still found in wetlands around North America.

2. Northern Pintail Duck

Northern Pintail Duck

These thin ducks have long necks and tails, along with a beautiful black-gray beak. Males have brown coats, grey bodies, and white heads and breasts. Females possess crimson plumage on their bodies and tanned heads.

When flying, Northern Pintails have such a long neck that emphasizes their highly sharp tail (thus the name). Even while floating, its tail extends farther than its head.

Males do not reproduce, and all females possess shorter but still noticeable pintails.

Habitat

In North America, the marsh environment away from humans is the greatest area to discover these ducks. Wildlife refuges are excellent locations to begin.

They prefer shallower regions at the borders of ponds and lakes. Surprisingly, they can also travel on land, so you’ll see them clearing agricultural fields of leftover wheat, barley, maize, and rice.

Northern Pintails migrate exclusively at night and are fantastic fliers! They can achieve speeds of up to 48 miles per hour (77 kilometers per hour) during migration, and the longest non-stop trip is 1,800 miles (2900 km)

3. Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Ducks with small bodies and huge heads. Males possess white chests and flanks, as well as a big white patch on the back of their heads. The back is dark. Their face is covered with iridescent purple-green feathers.

Females are brownish in color with darker heads. Keep an eye out for the unique white cheek patch. When observed in North America, it isn’t easy to misidentify these stunning ducks.

They spend up to half of their time underwater hunting for aquatic invertebrates and shrimp, which they consume while still submerged. Be patient and continue checking the surroundings for these little birds to reappear after they dive.

Buffleheads are fussy nesters, only laying eggs within cavities. They nearly always utilize holes dug by Northern Flickers and, on rare occasions, Pileated Woodpeckers.

They are losing nest sites as a result of logging, although they easily accept properly placed nest boxes. Buffleheads are often quieter than other ducks. Males may be heard making a squeaky whistle from late winter through early spring.

4. Northern Shoveler

NORTHERN SHOVELER

Males can be differentiated through their green heads, brown to red sides, black backs, yellow eyes, and white chests. Females are brown, with a blue shoulder patch on occasion.

Both sexes do have distinctively large and broad bills! Across North America, a casual observer could confuse these birds for Mallards if they just glance at the greenish heads.

Read:  8 Types of Ducks in Ontario, Canada

Although if you look carefully, you can see the Northern Shovelers’ infamously enormous spoon-shaped beak, which is how they got their name. 

They use their enormous bill to sift and dig through dirt and sand in search of submerged crustaceans, aquatic insects, and mollusks.

Strangely, the bill’s borders include around 100 tiny projections called lamellae that help screen out the food they want to eat.

During courting, when scared and in flight, males emit a guttural “took-took” sound. Females are quack with a nasal tone.

The capacity of Northern Shovelers to “team together” to obtain food is an intriguing habit. Flocks of them may occasionally swim in circles to help mix up food!

5. Mallard

MALLARD

Males have quite a bright greenish forehead, a narrow white collar, a dark reddish to brown breast, a yellow beak, and a black tail with a white end. Females have mottled brown bodies and orange or brown bills.

While resting or flying, the secondary blue feathers on both sexes’ shoulders are most visible. They are, without a doubt, the most prevalent duck species across North America!

Habitat

Mallards are highly comfortable with humans, which explains why these adaptive ducks are very common. They may be found in almost any wetland environment, regardless of where it is. Human-built artificial buildings are easily accepted by mallards.

If you have a lake or a marsh, you may build a DIY nesting spot and enjoy some cute ducklings wandering about your property! Simply set up protection guards to keep predators away from the eggs.

6. Redhead

Redhead

A strong crest that descends to a greyish bill with a black edge is present on both sexes. Males do have distinctive yellow eyes and cinnamon-to-red hair. Black breasts on a grey body. Females are often brown and also have paler faces. He has dark eyes.

Among the sociable ducks across North America is the redhead, especially in the winter. It’s typical to observe them congregated in massive flocks, sometimes numbering in the thousands, on relatively big lakes. They are attracted to decoys because of their gregarious behavior, which makes them popular game birds for shooters.

Female Redheads, curiously, engage in brood parasitism, which means they will deposit part of their eggs in the nests of many other duck species and then let them nurture the hatchlings! Gadwall, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Northern Shoveler, and American Wigeon are among their favorite species to pursue.

What’s fascinating is that they construct their unique nests and rear their own hatchlings. What a way to play the odds! When attempting to woo a female, males emit a cat-like “whee-uogh” or “keyair” sound. When confronting another Redhead, the males also make a deep, trilling “rrrrrr.”

7. American Wigeon

AMERICAN WIGEON
Credits – ebird

Ducks have compact bodies and round heads. Grey or blue bills with a black apex. Males are predominantly brown, with a green band across both eyes and a whitish crest. Females possess brown bodies on the whole, with a dustier forehead.

Habitat

Despite the fact that there are numerous American Wigeons, they like quiet rivers and marshes far from humans.

Their diet contains more plant matter compared to other waterfowl, and they, such as geese, feed in croplands. Their little bill gives more power, enabling them to pluck plants readily!

Because these ducks are frequently startled when visited, the greatest method to observe them in North America is to wait for these ducks! Males emit a nasal whistle (wheew-wheew-wheew) all year, which resembles a kazoo! Females do not whistle and rather make a loud grunt quack.

8. Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Breeding males have blue bills and white cheeks, as well as a black crown and rear of the neck that leads down to a chestnut-colored body. The stiff black tail is usually upright. Apart from the darker crown, females are tawny light brown.

Females and nonbreeding males have a scoop-shaped black bill. First and foremost, males in breeding feathers are recognizable and unlike any other duck. Their brilliant blue bills and strong necks are difficult to overlook.

Males have a distinct manner of enticing ladies. They will beat their bill on their neck so fiercely that air is forced through the feathers, causing a swirl of bubbles in the water, which I assume the ladies find appealing.

To top it all off, they make a belching sound! Ruddy Ducks swim significantly better than fliers. When confronted by predators, they would rather dive and swim away than take to the air.

9. Gadwall

GADWALL

Males do have a complex pattern of grey, black, and brown plumage that resemble white-fringed “scales.” With a brown crown, the bill is dark black or grey. Their back is coated with thick, dark brown plumage. Males possess a black bill.

Females have brown plumage with speckles and dark orange to black beaks. Female Mallards resemble male Mallard ducks in looks. When flying, both males and females possess a whitish patch (much thinner on females) over their wings.

Throughout North America, gadwalls are very easy to ignore! Males, unlike many other species, lack patches of greenish, blue, or white feathers. Search for these ducks in little ponds with dense foliage.

Read:  13 Types of Ducks in Florida

Food

Gadwalls get an odd tendency to snatch food from diving ducks as they come to the surface, with American Coots usually their favorite prey! This activity is more common during summer, when the animal matter may account for about 50 % of their total diet, while it declines to roughly 5%, mostly in winter.

Their principal feeding source is submerged aquatic plants. Females are quack is relatively very similar to Mallards but somewhat higher in pitch.

10. Canvasback

Canvasback
Credits – Wikipedia

A huge diving duck with a black tail, black chest, and light grey body. Their wedge-shaped faces slope down to a long, black bill. Males possess red eyes and a red-brown skull.

Females have a darker overall appearance, with a brown forehead and black eyes. Canvasbacks are big diving ducks that never land on land. They often sleep when floating and make their nests out of floating plants!

These ducks are omnivores, meaning they consume anything from insects and mussels to plant roots and seeds. They may dive up to seven feet deep in search of underwater plants to pull off with their powerful bills. These relatively quiet ducks’ numbers have fluctuated throughout the previous century.

The loss of huge quantities of wetland habitat due to construction caused a fall in populations, as did the disappearance of their principal food supply (wild celery) in many regions. However, their population has been stable since the 1980s.

11. Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Males and females have similar appearances. They are mostly cinnamon in color, with white stripes on their flanks and a blackish back. Bill and legs are dark.

Habitat

They are most commonly found around rice fields, crayfish farms, or flooded meadows in North America.  These locations supply them with food as well as an appropriate water depth of fewer than 20 inches. Interestingly, these ducks did not breed here until the early twentieth century, when rice planting began.

The species of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks appears to be steady. Historically, heavy use of agrochemicals on rice fields resulted in a large number of poisoned birds.

However, since they are among the least researched waterfowl species, it is unknown how their populations have changed through time.

These ducks, as the name implies, make a high-pitched whistle that is frequently heard when flying.

12. Blue-winged Teal

BLUE-WINGED TEAL

The white bands on the side of each eye and blue forehead in males. Both the beak and the feathers are black. On the body, brown bears black patterns. Females possess brown bodies. Check for an individual wearing a crown over their forehead and black eyeliner.

Blue-winged Teals are widespread throughout North America across shallow marshes. The stunning blue wing patch that can only be seen when flying gives these ducks their name! The green feathers under the blue in their wings are lovely.

Trust me, these lovely birds are the 2nd very common duck throughout North America, after only the Mallard. Blue-winged Teal is a famous hunting species, but the ducks’ number that may be taken each year is tightly managed to ensure that the population is currently robust. Males whistle a high-pitched “tsee-tsee.”

13. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Males and females appear the same, unlike many other ducks in North America. Their body color is primarily cinnamon. Long red legs and a crimson bill, and the face is grey, and the belly is black. The wings have a white patch.

Black-bellied sea eagles use their long legs to fly. Whistling- Ducks spend a significant amount of time outside of the water, wandering or nestling on fences or on trees. In reality, they nest in old woodpecker cavities in trees.

Food

These ducks eat mostly vegetables. They feed comparable residual crops as geese, such as rice, maize, and wheat, in addition to aquatic vegetation.

The term Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks is wonderfully apt.

Their belly is obviously black, but the term “whistling” originates from the distinct noises they emit.

Look for a soft, high whistle with a lengthy initial note followed by multiple shorter ones. According to scientists, whistling ducks, unlike the other species we studied, are not real dabbling ducks.

They possess their own family (Dendrocygnidae) and genus (Dendrocygna), with just eight species left in the world.

14. Mottled Duck

Mottled Duck
Credits – Ducks Unlimited

A patchy warm brown body contrasts with a buff head, as the name indicates. There are little or no marks on the neck. The bill of a male is yellow with a black tip. The bill of a female is black with an orange-yellow apex.

Since they fit in so nicely with other ducks, Mottled Ducks may be difficult to spot. Female Mallards and American Black Ducks, in particular, may be difficult to identify.

Mottled Ducks and Mallards are so similar that they frequently breed together throughout North America. There is a serious danger that this species may go extinct as a result of hybridization!

Read:  18 Types of Ducks in Michigan

These hybrids are known as “Muddled Ducks,” and identifying a pure Mottled Duck requires considerable expertise. Not unexpectedly, they sound a lot like Mallards. Males emit a raspy, low “raeb” quack, while females give a more usual pitch and intensity-descending quack.

15. Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Males have extremely detailed feathers. Search for the red eyes, green crested head, and chestnut chest flecked with white. Females possess brown bodies and grey heads that are somewhat crested. A blue patch of wings with a white teardrop eye patch.

The male Wood Duck is one of the only ducks that has reportedly taken Walt Disney’s proverb “the globe is certainly a carousel of color” literally.

To create this species that really is lemon rose, purple, black, orange, grey, yellow, buff, brown, green, red, white, tan, and blue, it seems that one artist used every color of the spectrum. Among the rare duck, species to be seen on American trees is this species.

Habitat

Wood Ducks nest across abandoned tree holes; however, they also use elevated nest boxes. Surprisingly, Wood Ducks are ideally adapted to living among trees.

The claws of these species are strong, allowing them to sit and grab onto trees! When Wood Ducks are agitated, they make the most frequent sound. I’ve frequently unexpectedly come across them just to see them flying, yelling “ooeeek-ooeeek” loudly!

16. Cinnamon Teal

CINNAMON TEAL

Males have a cinnamon body color and a broad, long black beak. So search for those crimson eyes. Females are speckled brown on the outside, with huge black bills and black eyes. Males fly with gorgeous green and blue spots on their wings.

Habitat

Cinnamon Teals breed and thrive in huge, permanent marshes throughout the United States. They are frequently spotted along the borders of reeds and other cover plants.

While their numbers remain constant, it has been steadily falling over the last 50 years. Most of their adaptive habitat is destroyed due to the conversion of wetlands to farmland or other sorts of development.

What is left is frequently polluted and poisoned, which these species are intolerant to. Males make a low-pitched rattling “karrr, karrr, karrr,” which sounds like someone is attempting to use a chainsaw but failing.

17. Green-winged Teal

Green-Winged Teal

Males have greenish ear bands and are chestnut-brown in hue. Beautiful bodies with grey bars feature vertical white lines on both sides. Females are brown with black spots across their bodies and wear black eyeliner.

There is a green mark on the wing of both sexes that may be observed during flying and most of the time when they are sleeping. Green-winged Teals are the tiniest dabbling ducks found throughout North America. They are barely 12 to 15 inches (31 to 39 centimeters) long and weigh 5 to 18 ounces (140 to 500 grams).

These birds frequently migrate and socialize with various species. Look for the tiniest duck in a diverse flock, and it’s likely to be a Green-winged Teal. Females, which resemble female Mallards, should be distinguished since they are substantially smaller!

Despite being the second most hunted duck throughout the state, green-winged teal numbers have risen in North America over the years.

Fortunately, since they breed in far North America, their nesting territory has not experienced the same level of habitat destruction as some other species. Males make a brief, crisp, continuous whistle, which is an unusual sound for a duck! Females frequently make a succession of quacks at any time of year.

18. American Black Duck

American Black Duck

The dark brown body of both sexes contrasted with the light brown head. The male bill is yellow, while the females have a dull olive bill. Search for an iridescent purple square on their wings when flying.

The term “American Black Ducks” doesn’t really accurately describe the species. They lack any black on them, contrary to what you may expect them to look like—Daffy Duck from Warner Bros!

These ducks are discovered in shallow marshes throughout the United States, where they frequently graze alongside Mallards. American Black Ducks and female Mallards are almost identical, so search for them in huge groups!

Conclusion

Despite the fact that more duck species exist, the ones described above are the most common. Many of these species were going extinct as a consequence of illicit hunting, pesticide use in farming, and the destruction of their natural surroundings.

Nonetheless, they are currently stabilizing, and the vast majority have been reduced to “least concern.”

FAQ

What is America's most beautiful duck?

Any waterfowl fan would most certainly refer to the dazzling, colorful drake wood duck being the most attractive bird throughout North America.

What is America's most hunted duck?

This is due to the Mallard being the most prevalent wild duck in America. They’re difficult to confuse with their emerald heads and unusual cry.

Mallards have been and remain to be a mainstay of American hunting, including over 2.9 million taken during the 2019 to 2020 shooting season, the highest number of any duck species in the nation.

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.