Wild Ducks

Ducks belong to the order Anseriformes and the family Anatidae. There are about 50 species native to North America. Following is a list of some of the better-known species of ducks. The description given for each, unless otherwise noted, is of the adult male plumage.


See Widgeon, in this list.

Black Duck

The black duck is a dark-hued bird with a white lining and a patch of violet on each wing. It breeds in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. The black duck is a very hardy species and can withstand extreme cold. It winters from Michigan and Nova Scotia to Texas and Florida.

The black duck is Anas rubripes.


See Scaup, in this list.


This is one of the smallest wild ducks, The black head, marked with a patch of white, has feathers that stand out, giving it a rounded appearance. The bufflehead is a speedy diver. It breeds chiefly in Alaska and central Canada and winters on the Great Lakes, the Atlantic coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The bufflehead is Bucephala albeola.


This hardy bird is found only in North America, where it is a table delicacy. Its back and sides are a light canvas-colored gray. The long, sloping head is rusty red, and the breast black. The canvasback is a swift flier and an agile diver. It breeds chiefly in Alaska, western Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. In winter it is found as far south as Mexico and in the eastern United States from Lake Erie and Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico.

The canvasback is Aythya valisineria.


The eider is a sea duck, frequenting offshore islands and waters, where it dives for mussels, its chief food. The female lines her nest with soft breast-down, building up this layer of down at the nest sides so that it can be pulled in over the eggs during incubation. The eider's soft, light down is used for stuffing pillows, quilts, and comforters, and for lining some types of clothing. The common eider is white above and black below, with a black crown. The king eider has a white neck and breast, black back, and an orange bill shield. Both species breed and winter in the Arctic, occasionally coming farther south.

The common eider is Somateria mollissima; king eider, S. spectabilis.


The gadwall is a freshwater duck found along the weedy shores of rivers, lakes, and ponds. It is a slender, gray duck with a black rump and a white patch on the hind edge of each wing. The gadwall breeds from Alaska and Manitoba to California, New Mexico, Iowa, and New Jersey. It is found as far south as southern Mexico in winter. A swift flier, it produces a sharp whistling sound in flight.

The gadwall is Anas strepera.


The goldeneye has a dark head, black back, and white throat, breast, and underparts. The common goldeneye has a prominent white spot below the eye near the bill, and its head is glossy green. It breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland and in northern parts of the United States. It winters as far south as California and the Gulf of Mexico, on the seacoasts and inland. Barrow's goldeneye has a larger, crescent-shaped white patch at the base of the bill, and its head is glossy purple. It breeds from Alaska to Oregon; in the mountains of California and Colorado; and in Quebec and Labrador. It winters chiefly on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The common goldeneye is Bucephala clangula; Barrow's, B. islandica.

Harlequin Duck

This duck has distinctive white markings on the head, neck, wings, and tail. The harlequin duck breeds from Greenland to Alaska and south in the mountains to California and Colorado. It winters on the coasts of New England and the Pacific Northwest.

The harlequin duck is Histrionicus histrionicus.

Labrador Duck

This sea duck became extinct in 1878. It formerly was found from Nova Scotia south to New Jersey. It is known only from a few stuffed specimens. It was mostly black with white wings, head, neck, and throat. Never abundant, the Labrador duck apparently was hunted to extinction on its breeding grounds on the southeastern coast of Labrador.

The labrador duck is Camptorhynchus labradorius.


The mallard is the most common and familiar duck, all over the globe. In North America it breeds from Alaska to Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes region south to California, Kansas, Ohio, and Virginia. It winters from Alaska and the southern part of its Canadian breeding range south to central Mexico and the West Indies. The mallard's white neck ring, rich chestnut breast, and glossy-green head distinguish it from other ducks. The female has mottled brown plumage with a whitish tail. In both sexes there is a violet-blue patch, bordered with white, on the rear edge of each wing. The female quacks loudly and repeatedly; the male utters a single, faint note. The mallard is found in ponds, rivers, and freshwater marshes. It often feeds on grain in fields. The nest is a hollowed place among reeds or tall grasses, and is lined with down. The mallard lays 8 to 15 (usually about 10) greenish-buff eggs.

Domesticated mallards are discussed under the subtitle Domestic Ducks.

The mallardThe mallard is the most common wild duck.

The mallard is Anas platyrhynchos.

How Is a Mallard Like a Swan?

Mallards, like swans, are dabblers. Dabblers are swimming birds that eat water plants and sift through mud to find food. A mallard’s bill is like a swan’s. The bill is flat and wide, with teethlike fringes along the edges to trap food and let water drain out.

Masked Duck

This tropical duck is found occasionally in the lower Rio Grande valley. It resembles the ruddy duck but is smaller and has a black, masklike patch on the head and a patch of white on each wing.

The masked duck is Oxyura dominica.


The common merganser is a handsome, long-bodied bird with white sides and breast, a greenish-black head, and a black back. It is an excellent diver, capturing small fish with ease. It breeds from Alaska and northern Canada south to Maine, Minnesota, and California. The redbreasted merganser is similar, but has long crest feathers, a reddish-brown speckled breast, and a broad white collar. The hooded merganser has reddish sides and a large white, black-edged crest. It breeds as far south as Missouri and Florida.

The common merganser is Mergus merganser; red-breasted, M. serrator; hooded, Mergus (or Lophodytes) cucullatus.

The red-breasted merganserThe red-breasted merganser has long crest feathers, a speckled breast, and a broad white collar.
Which Duck Has a Hood?

The hooded merganser (muhr GAN suhr) has a crest made of feathers. When the feathers lie flat, they look like hair. But when the feathers are raised, they look like a hood.

Both male and female mergansers have hoods. But a male’s hood is larger and fuller. Males raise their hoods often. They raise their hoods to attract females. They may also raise their hoods when they are excited or in danger.

Like swans, hooded mergansers are good swimmers, but they are also good divers. They dive beneath the water to catch fish. Mergansers have long, thin bills with teethlike edges for grasping fish.