Easily Identify Dabbling Ducks

Resource for dabbling or puddle duck identification information, feeding and takeoff patterns, eclipse plumage, and other pertinent information.

Dabbling Duck Species

For specific infomation and identification details for a particular species of puddle duck, choose from the images below.


 


What to Look For

Dabbling Duck Patterns - Puddle ducks are typically birds of fresh, shallow marshes and rivers rather than of large lakes and bays. They are good divers, but usually feed by dabbling or tipping rather than submerging. The speculum, or colored wing patch, is generally irridescent and bright, and often a telltale field mark. Any duck feeding in croplands will likely be a puddle duck, for most of this group are sure-footed and can walk and run well on land. Their diet is mostly vegetable, and grain-fed mallards or pintails or acorn-fattened wood ducks are highly regarded as food.

Diving Ducks Feeding and Takeoff Paterns

 

Eclipse Plumage - Most ducks shed their body feathers twice each year. Nearly all drakes lose their bright plumage after mating, and for a few weeks resemble females. This hen-like appearance is called the eclipse plumage. The return to breeding coloration varies in species and individuals of each species. Blue-winged teal and shovelers may retain the eclipse plumage until well into the winter. Wing feathers are shed only once a year; wing colors are always the same.

Diving Ducks Eclipse Plumage

 

Flight Patterns - Differences in size, shape, plumage patterns and colors, wing beat, flocking behavior, voice, and habitat - all help to distinguish one species from another. Flock maneuvers in the air are clues. Mallards, pintails, and wigeon form loose groups; teal and shovelers flash by in small, compact bunches; at a distance canvasbacks shift from waving lines to temporary V's. Closer up, individual silhouettes are important. Variations of head shapes and sizes, lengths of wings and tails, and fat bodies or slim can be seen. Within shotgun range, color areas can be important. Light conditions might make them look different, but their size and location are positive keys. The sound of their wings can help as much as their calls. Flying goldeneyes make a whistling sound; wood ducks move with a swish; canvasbacks make a steady rushing sound. Not all ducks quack; many whistle, squeal, or grunt. Although not a hard and fast rule, different species tend to use different types of habitat. Puddle ducks like shallow marshes and creeks while divers prefer larger, deeper, and more open waters.

Diving Ducks Flight Paterns

 

Source: Hines, Robert W. Ducks at a distance: A waterfowl identification guide. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southwest Natural and Cultural Heritage Association, Albuquerque, NM.