Duck ID: 10 Common Species

By Staff

By Staff | October 6, 2016

For a more thorough list of waterfowl, visit Know Your Waterfowl on the Ducks Unlimited Canada website.

The skies are alive this time of year, with waterfowl and other birds. Migrating duck species are diverse and often easily identified by their appearance.

If you read Know Your Ducks, you know what kind of clues to look for when identifying ducks. Use those clues to look for characteristics of these 10 species as the flocks are passing through this season.

American Wigeon

American wigeon pair

  • Medium-sized dabbling duck
  • The adult male has white crown and green band stretching from its eye to the back of the head; white and green wing patches
  • Female is brown and grey with a white wing patch that is more dull and reduced than the male’s

American Black Duck

American black duck standing on ice

  • Large dabbling duck
  • Male and female are similar in appearance but are easily distinguished by the colour of their bill; drakes’ bills are greenish yellow and females’ are dull olive green to black
  • Both resemble a mallard hen, but have a noticeably darker black-brown body that contrasts with their light brown head

Blue Winged Teal

blue-winged teal

  • Male has a blue grey head with a white crescent behind the bill; brown breast, sides and underparts speckled with black; black and white patches at the base of tail; a blue forewing patch bordered by white with a green bar at the trailing edge of wing
  • Female is mottled brown overall, with a dull blue forewing patch bordered by a faint white stripe and a green bar at the back edge of the wing


Canvasback pair

  • Large diving duck
  • The male has a gracefully sloped black bill, russet coloured head and a canvas-white back, for which the species is named
  • Females are coloured to blend with their surroundings while on the nest. They have a reddish-brown head, neck and chest, and a mottled light brown back



  • Mid-sized dabbler
  • Most readily identified in flight by the white feathers of the speculum adjacent to the body
  • Females are identified mainly by their white bellies and similar white and black wing patches
  • Both males and females are greyish-brown, and have steep foreheads, narrow, greyish-black bills and yellow legs

Green Winged Teal

green-winged teal

  • North America’s smallest dabbling duck
  • Male has a spotted pinkish breast, speckled grey sides and a grey back, whitish underparts, a reddish brown head with a green stripe that extends through eye, green wing bars bordered with buff, a vertical white stripe in front of the wing and a buff and black area at the base of the tail
  • Females are mottled brown overall with whitish underparts and have green wing bars bordered with buff

Hooded Merganser

Hooded merganser

  • When raised, the crest of the male’s breeding plumage shows a large white patch bordered in black. When depressed, it shows a broad white stripe with a black edge
  • Males and females have yellow eyes
  • Females and immature males have backward slanting crests on russet-brown heads and are dark grey overall


Canard colvert - Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos

  • Large dabbling duck
  • In breeding plumage, the male is easily identified by a bright green head, olive yellow bill, brown chest and blue wing patches
  • The female is a mottled brown colour overall, with blue wing patches, orange and black bill and orange feet
  • Both have distinctive white underwings with blue speculum markings in their rear edges

Northern Pintail

pintail pair

  • Medium-sized dabbling duck with a slim profile, long narrow neck and pointed tail
  • Males have a chocolate brown head, a white foreneck, a blue-grey bill with black stripe and a long “pin” tail. The wings are grey with an iridescent green patch
  • Females are mottled brown and have blue bills with dark spots or mottling

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked duck

  • The male has a chestnut-coloured ring around its black neck that is barely visible when identifying birds from a distance
  • It has a black back, a white triangle in front of the folded wing, an angular head, white bars on the bill and uniformly dark wings
  • Females resemble scaup and redhead females. They have an angular head and a white band near the bill tip

Wood duck

Canard branchu - Wood duck - Aix sponsa

  • Medium sized perching duck
  • Males have an iridescent green and white crested head, red eyes, red and white bill, chestnut breast, golden flanks and iridescent back
  • Females are a drab version of the male but are still considered striking compared to other duck hens


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