Types of Ducks

picture of a male Pintail duck

North American duck talk often begins with a resuscitation of facts. The American Birding Association's check list recognizes sixty three North American duck geese and swan species (Anatidae family). Forty six of those species fall into the general duck category, with duck species arranged into seventeen genera.

The number of species/genera varies greatly, from the Wood Duck's (Aix sponsa) singular representation of the Aix genus to the sixteen Anas species, often collectively called the dabbling ducks.

No introduction to North American duck talk would be complete without mention of their vocal patterns. They tend to quack, squeak and whistle their way through the day. The female Mallard in the video, for example, provides your basic quack conversation.

Finally, approximately one dozen North American ducks get listed as occasional or rare visitors, reducing the native breeding population to the three dozen range.

Read More

Dabbling Ducks

picture of a male American Wigeon duck

The sixteen Anas species on the American Birding Association's check list, makes them the most diverse of the North American Anatidae genera.

Taking into account that only eleven Anas species count as native breeding species does little to put a dent into the genera's relative diversity. The picture at the top of the page shows the elegant Male Pintail Duck, characterized by a longer than average sweeping tail. The picture at the top of this heading shows a male American Wigeon (Anas americana). Fairly common in ponds, they are best known as the ducks that sound like squeak toys.

picture of a male Mallard duck

Perhaps the best known of the Anas, the green headed Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) inhabit ponds and lakes from coast to coast.

During non-breeding season, males and females share most physical characteristics. Foot color helps differentiate them, with males usually possessing brighter orange webbed feet. Hardy ducks, they often breed with other species, especially domestic ducks.

Many mallards live year round in one territory. Others migrate to Canada during breeding season and winter in the United States.

picture of a male Northern Shovler duck basking in the sun

The Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) makes more of a presence in western than eastern North America. Beginning birders could easily mistake the shoveler for the mallard. Males of both species have green heads. Shovelers are distinguished by an extra large and wide black bill.

Breeding populations exist in most areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

picture of a female Cinnamon Teal

Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal

Diving Ducks

picture of a Redhead duck

Second in diversity only to the Anas ducks, North America's seven Aythya species, commonly called diving ducks, inhabit fresh water locations from coast to coast.

Diving ducks share a similar physiological characteristic. Compared to dabbling ducks, their legs and feet are situated further back on the body.

Having the legs situated this way helps them with their propulsion while they are in the water. It also makes it awkward for them to walk on land, consequently you rarely see them walking.

Leg structure also makes it easy to identify diving ducks at a distance. They need a running start on the water in order to lift off for flight. Their large webbed feet help them with that task. Dabbling ducks can take flight almost instantly.

One look at the Redhead Duck (Aythya americana) explains the name. In addition to the head feathers, males also get recognized by the gray, black tipped bill.

Diving ducks with a preference of fresh water habitats, most of the breeding population is located in the West.

Sea Ducks

picture of a male hooded merganser duck

The common name sea ducks may be a bit misleading. Collectively the fifteen documented North American sea ducks tend to inhabit salt water habitats. However, some individual species, such as the Mergansers, also spend time in fresh water lakes and rivers.

Like the diving ducks, sea ducks have a varied diet, eating fish, mollusks, insects and other animal matter in their feeding area.

Because they are migratory birds, the United States and Canada manage them under the terms of the 1986 North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

Three merganser ducks, in two genera, inhabit ponds, rivers and ocean areas across North America. Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) represent the Lophodytes genera. The picture shows the male with a raised crest. Female crests lack a white patch.

While classified as sea ducks, the North American population splits its year round residence between pond and forest areas of the Northwest and Southeast.

Stiff-tailed Ducks

picture of a male Ruddy duck

Two native stiff-tailed duck species share North American territory. The more wide ranging Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) inhabits Western fresh water lakes and ponds year round. They winter along the Atlantic Coast. One look at the female in the top pictures explains the nick-name. They swim tail up.

The bill of the male Ruddy Duck turns blue during the breeding season.

The Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus), a normally tropical species, resembles the Ruddy Duck. Males have a blue bill during breeding season and a large black patch on the face accounts for the common name, masked.

Their presence in the United States changes from year to year. When they do migrate irregularly for breeding, they inhabits warmer areas of the country such as southern Florida and South Texas.

Whistling Ducks

picture of a Whistlig duck

Biologically, whistling ducks are closer to swans and geese than they are to ducks. Because names count for something, birding enthusiasts often place them with the ducks. The American Ornithological Union places them in their own subfamily, Dendrocygninae.

Whistling Ducks get their name from the whistling sounds they make. Generally quacking gets associated with duck vocalization. However some duck species evolved with alternative vocalization habits. They are found primarily along the southern coast of Texas during breeding season. They are omnivores, eating seeds, plants, insects and other things in their territory. The video provides a nice background sound.

The Fulvous Whistling Duck range extends across the southern areas of North America from California to Florida.

Wood Ducks

picture of a male and female wood duck swimming in the pond

Colorful feathers make the wood duck (Aix sponsa) one of the North America's most popular birds.

Once called a perching duck because of its tree nesting activity, wood ducks defy a common classification, and represent the Aix genus in North America.The picture shows a female and male wood duck. The white eye patch is characteristic of the female in the front. Males are much more colorful from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail. The male's green, purple, black and white head feathers turn to a more uniform black color during non-breeding season.

Wood Ducks inhabit a variety of fresh water and wetland areas throughout the United States, with breeding occurring during early or late spring, depending on their geographic location. Warmer weather in their southern habitats means an earlier start to the breeding season.

Popular games birds, wood ducks exhibit a bit of shyness around human populations.

Domestic Ducks

picture of a Muscovy Duck

Many North American parks host wild duck populations, inevitably joined by a few domestic breeds. One such domestic duck stands out literally. The Indian Runner, or runners for short, are known for their long necks and proclivity to stand straight while walking.

Muscovy Ducks (Cairina moschata), pictured, are a native new world species originally established in South America, Central America and Mexico. Over time, wild populations have migrated to South Texas and domestic populations have been introduced throughout the United States.

© 2006-2016 Patricia A. Michaels