Types of Ducks

When most people are asked about ducks, they think about mallards in the local duck pond and probably can’t name more than a couple of different species. Even seasoned birders may be tempted to view them with some contempt, unless they are looking at a rare and striking species. In this post, we have chosen some interesting examples of different types of native ducks.

What is a duck?

The dictionary definition of duck is, a noun meaning:

a waterbird with a broad blunt bill, short legs, webbed feet, and a waddling gait

Definitely sounds like a mallard!

Other definitions are a bit broader:

any of various species of relatively small, short-necked, large-billed waterfowl


the common name for numerous species of waterfowl in the family Anatidae

They probably cover it. The family Anatidae also include swans and geese so the ducks are fairly easy to filter out. The ABA list has a total of 71 member in the Anatidae family and of those, 52 can easily be identified as ducks.

There is some conflicting information about which ducks present in the United States are native, ie, they made their own way there. I assumed Mallards were introduced but there are records of them in continental America going back several hundred years. For our purposes we are looking at the 4 types of ducks – dabbling, diving, sea and whistling and we have excluded any vagrants or rare visitors.

Types of Ducks

Dabbling Ducks

Dabbling ducks are the most commonly seen as they inhabit shallow waters and ponds but they can also be seen along shorelines.

Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera)

Photo by Clément Bardot



As the range map shows above, the Cinnamon Teal is widespread across continental America and into Alaska. The very dark spots relate to areas where the teal is an abundant breeder – Great Salt Lake areas in Utah and Central Valley in California. Where it breeds and overwinters, it can be seen in large numbers. The teal can be found feeding along the edges of suitable wetland environments.

American Wigeon (Mareca americana)

Photo by Frank Schulenburg



Classed as Least Concern, the American Wigeon is common across the States, into Canada and Alaska and South America. It breeds near water, preferring wetlands, marshes and rivers and overwinters in similar environments. The wigeon can be found in coastal areas on tidal flats and estuaries. It feeds on more vegetation than other ducks because its short, powerful bill means it can pull out plants easier.

Hawaiian Duck (Anas wyvilliana)

Photo by By / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service



The Hawaiian Duck is Endangered and endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Some interbreeding with local duck species means that the pure forms are only found on Kaua’i. It is resident along the coast in wetlands and further inland in rivers and ponds. There is a program to try to protect and restore these ducks to the Islands.

Diving Ducks

Diving ducks are as they sound. They are capable of diving and swimming under water and so can be found in deeper waters including fast flowing streams and rivers.

Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

Photo by Frank Schulenburg



While the Canvasback is widespread across the continent including Canada, Alaska and into South America, it breeds in north western America. During the winter, the birds disperse to a wide range from Washington, California along to Mississippi and Louisiana. They do congregate in large numbers but are very wary as they are often hunted.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

Photo by Rhododendrites



The Redhead, as a diving duck, feeds on submerged plants in marshes and lakes. It will also search for aquatic invertebrates. It migrates from southern and eastern parts of the U.S. to breed in the north west and Alaska. Because of this, there are good opportunities to see this duck across the States at different times of the year.

Sea Ducks

This group is probably the most tricky. Some organisations class them as ‘fish ducks’ or include them as diving or dabbling ducks. Sea ducks do spend time in coastal waters but can also be found away from the ocean in rivers. Hence the confusion.

Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri)

Photo by Laura Whitehouse



The Spectacled Eider is classed as Near Threatened. It is resident in Alaska, along coastal areas and is spread along the Arctic Cricle to Russia in breeding times. This eider prefers wetlands with some protection from storm surges. During non-breeding times, the whole population moves to an area of the Bering Sea where they meet in spaces between the sea ice (called polynyas). Here, they dive for food to the ocean floor.

Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)

Photo Public Domain



Apart from a small concentration in the far north east of America, the main populations of this rather gorgeous duck are in the north west, Canada and Alaska. In the summer, it searches for freshwater and alpine lakes that are more than a meter deep and often in forested areas. During the winter months, it can be found along rocky ocean shores.

Whistling Ducks

Whistling ducks are very attractive brown ducks, often with plumes along their sides and they have a curious call which sounds like they are whistling.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

Photo by Imogen Warren



Concentrated in the south east of continental America, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck can be best seen along the Gulf of Mexico where its principal breeding sites are located. The whistling call is made when the duck is swimming or standing. These ducks used to be known as Tree Ducks, because they perch and nest in them.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor)

Photo by Nnc.banzai



Much less common than the Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, this bird’s distribution can best be described as patchy. It can be found in suitable environments of marshes and swamps across southern states and up the eastern side. This duck is a filter-feeder and strains mud for invertebrates and seeds.

That concludes our post giving examples of the different types of ducks. My favorite is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck and I first saw them in trees. It was very odd, but what a great looking bird. Better than a mallard any day!


What is the most common type of duck?

In the U.S. the Mallard is the most commonly seen duck. It is usually found in any body of water in parks and gardens.

What are groups of ducks called?

There are several names for groups of ducks. They might be called a raft, a team or a paddling of ducks.

How many species of duck are the in the United States?

While the ABA lists 52 species of duck reported in the U.S., there are only around 30 that are native to the country.

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