Types of Ducks

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.

Duck Facts

The swans, geese and duck species that constitute the family are easily recognized by their small stout bodies, webbed feet and short bills. Males of the species usually have more colorful feather patterns than the females.

Native duck populations fluctuate year to year depending on a variety of factors, including availability of suitable breeding habitat.

Generally North American experts suggest that over the past fifty years, North American duck populations remained fairly stable. With over eight million species, the mallard remains the most common North American duck.

Ducks appeal to a large swath of the population from birders to hunters. Their popularity translates into a need for duck identification skills. The more skilled individuals can identify duck species in flight.

Birding enthusiasts, for example, flock to parks and ponds across North America, traditional hosts for large populations of both dabbling ducks and diving ducks, the two most common fresh water duck genera.

Duck watching often goes hand in hand with duck enthusiasts feeding the ducks stale loaves of bread. Experts warn that feeding ducks processed bread is akin to feeding them junk food, and they recommend duck enthusiasts spend an extra dime and bring grains to the park for feeding purposes.

Duck inclusion in the broader, non-scientific category called game birds, reflects their historical popularity as wild game. Hunters often learn to identify duck species in flight as well as on the ground.

Contrasting eating styles also serves to differentiate the dabbling ducks and diving ducks.

Duck Hunting

time series graph showing mallard duck populations from 1995-2012

Finally, duck hunting accounts for some of the population stability. Over time, wild duck population management evolved into a cooperative state and federal regime requiring hunters to obtain both state licences and Federal "Duck Stamps".

The most recent duck population statistics from the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports,

In the traditional survey area, ... the 2011 total duck population estimate was 45.6 million birds. This estimate was 11% higher than the 2010 estimate of 40.9 million birds and was 35% above the long-term average (1955-2010).

The time series graph shows specific population data for the Mallard between 1955 and 2012. Population data for the most abundant native wild duck has fluctuated between six and ten million over time. Nonetheless, the population remains stable, with current estimates in the ten million range.

The links in the box point to articles that more fully describe the different types of ducks, loosely arranged according to general physical categories.

© 2006-2014 Patricia A. Michaels