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For those who love watching ducks but are used to only seeing widespread types such as the Mallard, it can be eye-opening to find out just how many breeds of ducks there are in the world. In fact, learning how many breeds of ducks are in just a single state can be astonishing. For example, did you know that the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources lists 30 breeds of duck as being in Alabama? That’s a lot!
Curious as to just what these breeds are? We’re going to look at some of the most common and most observed duck breeds in the state of Alabama. Between dabbling ducks and sea/diving ducks, you’ll find a lot of diversity on this list. Each breed of duck is stunning in its own way, with a wide range of colors and appearances between them all.
Dabbling ducks are found in shallow waters. These ducks typically eat either by tipping their heads underwater while their tails are kept pointing up or by grazing on the surface of the water. However, when winter ends and snow melts, they will move onto land, hunting for seeds, grains, insects, and nuts.
Sea or diving ducks can most commonly be found in bodies of water such as coastal bays, inlets, and deep rivers or lakes. As the name indicates, these ducks find food by diving entirely beneath the water. What are they looking for under there? Vegetation, like the dabbling ducks, but also food they can chase such as fish.
These ducks have different wings that have adapted to let them feed in this way. You’ll find the wings to be on the smaller side, as well as pointier and narrower than dabbling ducks. One other thing to know about these guys is that they usually can’t take off from the surface of the water like dabbling ducks. Instead, they need to get a running start!
When it comes to the dabbling duck, you’ll find a handful of common ones in the state of Alabama.
Often mistaken for the Mallard, due to the similarities in their looks, the American Black Duck can be found in shallow wetlands, such as beaver ponds, saltwater marshes, and river islands throughout Alabama. You can often find them in winter in the Tennessee Valley region and occasionally during all seasons in the Gulf Coast region. Rarely, you may find them in inland coastal and mountain regions, regardless of the season.
The population of the American Black Duck has been lessened considerably during the mid-20th century, making them a high conservation concern. The reasons for decline aren’t clear, though they most likely include a mix between habitat changes and the growing number of Mallards in regions where the American Black Duck breeds. Hopefully, efforts between the U.S. and Canada will help the declined population regrow.
Whether male or female, American Black Ducks will have a dark brown-black body with a lighter brown color on the head and neck. The underwings will have linings in white, while the speculum is purple. Both genders will be approximately 21-23 inches long and have wingspans ranging from 35-37 inches. They will be close in weight as well, with males weighing around 2.7 pounds and females weighing 2.4 pounds. So, can you tell a male from a female? Yes, by the bill! Males will have olive green or dull yellow, while females will have olive or a green/gray color.
The American Wigeon, otherwise known as the Baldpate, Robber Duck, or Gray Duck, can be located in marshes and even potholes. Occasionally, you’ll also see them in rivers or lakes. They are common in all regions of Alabama throughout every season except summer.
It’s easy to recognize this duck due to the distinctive patch of white on the edge of their wing. You can also recognize breeding males by their white crown—which is where the name of Baldpate comes from—and the green band going from their eye to the back of their head. Breeding males will be a nice cinnamon color with undertail feathers that are black and patches of white on their behinds. Non-breeding males and females will be brown with dark smudges around the eyes. Besides these features, both male and female American Wigeons have a short gray-blue bill tipped in black and narrow wings. Each sex will be between 16-20 inches long, with wingspans approximately 33 inches, and weigh around 2 pounds.
The Blue-winged Teal can often be found throughout spring and fall in the Tennessee Valley, Gulf, mountain, and inland coastal regions. They tend to spend winters in South America, so it’s rare to see them then. They live in brackish waters, shallow freshwaters, mudflats, and marshes.
Males and females of this breed look quite different. The bodies of males are a light yellow-brown with black speckles. They have blue-gray heads with prominent white patches that resemble crescents in front of the eye, close to their bills. The rest of them—bills, wings, and rump—will be black. Meanwhile, females have brown bodies with a marked pattern, a dark cap, and a black bill. Both males and females will show a light blue patch on the shoulder and some green feathers when they fly. Both sexes will also be between 14-16 inches in length and weigh between 0.5 and 1.25 pounds. Wingspans will range from 22-24 inches.
The Eurasian Wigeon can be seen associating with the American Wigeon and is only sometimes seen in the Tennessee Valley Region during fall, winter, and spring. They build their homes in ponds with brackish water or shallow freshwater locations.
The sexes of the Eurasian Wigeon can show many differences, some of which are dependent upon their age. Females can be identified by the reddish-brown of their flanks and white bellies. While most females will be a plain brown on the rest of their bodies, some may be reddish-brown on their heads and necks. Young ducks, no matter gender, will more closely resemble the female ducks, though. Breeding males will be identified by a bright reddish-brown head with cream forecrown and gray bodies. Their undertails will be black, while their wings will have white patches and a green speculum. Both sexes will average between 16-20 inches and weigh around 1-2 pounds. Their wingspan is approximately 32 inches.
The Gadwall, also referred to as the Gray Duck, is most commonly seen during the winter in all regions of Alabama. However, they can sometimes be found in spring and fall and rarely during summer. Because they prefer waters that are 18 inches deep or less, you’ll find them most often in marshes and ponds.
The male Gadwall is more easily recognizable with a gray body, light brown head, white belly, and black tail. They also have a speculum that is big and white, along with a black bill. Females are more difficult to recognize as they strongly resemble the Mallard. The most significant difference between female Gadwalls and Mallards is that the Gadwalls will have a white belly and speculum. They will also have an orange edge on their black bills. Both sexes will be between 18-22 inches in length, with a wingspan of around 33 inches. They will weigh anywhere between 1-3 pounds.
The Gadwall is monogamous when it comes to breeding and has courtship displays that can be rather elaborate. Male Gadwalls will throw their head and tail up at the same time while whistling and grunting to gain a female’s attention.
The Green-winged Teal duck can be found fairly often in all seasons minus summer (though they can sometimes be seen in summer in the Tennessee Valley Region). You’ll find them in a variety of water bodies, including marshy lakes, ponds, and agricultural fields that have been flooded.
These ducks are the smallest in North America, with only 12-15 inches of length and weighing only 0.25-1 pound! You can tell is you’re viewing a male by the male’s reddish-brown head and the green-purple patch that goes from the eye to the back of the neck. Males also have a brownish-pink chest with speckles that are black, while the rest of them is gray. They will have a green speculum, along with dark gray bills and feet.
Females look a bit different because they are a mottled brown color. Instead of an eye patch, they will have a darker brown line going from bill to eye. Their bills will be the same color as a male, but their feet will be a lighter gray (olive-gray or brown-gray). Both sexes have short necks and bills.
Another way to tell them apart? Male Green-winged Teals have a recognizable call that is high-pitched and sounds similar to “preep-preep”, while females tend to be silent (though they will release a high quack if startled).
This breed of duck you’re probably familiar with as it’s one of the most abundant breeds around. Because of this, you’ll find them throughout all the regions during all seasons, minus summer. The Mallard makes its home in a variety of locations, including small ponds and marshes and along the edges of creeks, lakes, and rivers.
The Mallard is a rather large duck, seeing as how it can be between 20-24 inches in length and weighs nearly 3 pounds, with wingspans between 33-37 inches. The male Mallard is quite easily recognized due to its green head and yellow bill. The rest of them consists of a brown breast, gray body, and black tail. Female Mallards are a mottled brown—designed to help them blend into their surroundings to protect from predators—and have orange-brown bills. Both males and females have blue speculum on their wings.
If you’re feeding ducks in a pond in a park somewhere, chances are high they are Mallards! Also, did you know that the Mallard is the ancestor of almost every domestic duck breed?
This duck breed is one of the few found in Alabama all year long. You’ll find them living in marsh areas along the Gulf Coast (particularly in Mobile County).
Because it is a close relative of the Mallard, it will look quite similar. They are large, medium-brown ducks with a mottled appearance (hence, the name). Their neck and head will be a lighter brown than the rest of them, and they have a greenish speculum.
Males and females look quite alike, but you can tell them apart by their bills and size. Males will have vivid yellow or olive bills with a black spot near the base, while females will have an orange bill with black splotches. Males will average between 19-22 inches in length, while females will be 18-21 inches. The male Mottled Duck’s wingspan will be longer than the females at a range of 32-34 inches (females average 31-32 inches). Finally, males will weigh 2-3 pounds, and females will weigh 1.5-2.5 pounds.
You’ll find this elegant duck throughout the Tennessee Valley, Gulf Coast, and inland coastal regions in every season except summer. Because they have a preference for shallower waters, you’ll see them hanging about ponds located in open areas and marshes.
Known also as the “greyhound of the air”, this bird gets the “pintail” in its name from the two long tail feathers the males have that average in length between 21-29 inches. These pintails make it easier to tell the male Northern Pintail from the female.
Males also have a white belly and breast that leads to a white stripe on each side of the neck going up to the chocolate head. Their backs are a dark gray, and their rumps have a white patch. The wings are primarily gray-brown with a green speculum. A male’s bill and feet will be a blueish-gray in color.
The female Northern Pintail has similar coloring to the female Mallard, but the fact that Pintails are thinner in appearance makes it easier to tell these two breeds apart. They have the same color of bill as males, but their speculums will be more of a bronze color.
Both males and females of this breed will be similar in size with a length between 20-29 inches, a wingspan of 34 inches, and a weight of about 1-3 pounds.
The Northern Shoveler is also called the Spoonbill, Spoonie, or Smiley. It is commonly found in the Tennessee Valley region (though less so during the summer). During winter, this breed makes its home on marshes, lakes, and ponds. During breeding season, they move to non-wooded areas containing short grass that are at least 75 to 200 feet away from water.
This breed of duck is medium-sized, with both sexes being between 18-20 inches long and weighing from 1-2 pounds, with a wingspan ranging from 27-33 inches. Both sexes also have a large bill that widens near the tip. Other than those similarities, though, the two differ in appearance.
Male Northern Shovelers have black bills, green necks and heads, and white chests. Their backs are a gray-brown color, while their sides are chestnut. You’ll see a white stripe going the back and white spots on their flanks. Finally, their speculum is green, and they have a blue-grey patch on the shoulder.
Females have an olive-green and orange bill that has black specks on it, a light brown head color, a black crown, and a brown body that is speckled. Their secondaries will be brown with a slight green tinge, while the coverts on the upper wing will be blue-gray.
This beautiful duck breed has a wide variety of more common names, including Summer Duck, Swamp Duck, Acorn Duck, Squealer, and Woodie. They are common in all seasons throughout all the regions of Alabama. They also inhabit a variety of habitats that include shallow water, such as beaver ponds, tiny streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and swamps.
The Wood Duck is multicolored, but it’s pretty easy to tell the males from the females. This is because males have bright colors and patterns in blues, purples, and greens, a white patch on the chin, and a long red bill. Females are brown with a brown-gray head and a teardrop shape in white around the eye. Their similarities come in size as both sexes range in length from 18-21 inches, in weight from 1-2 pounds, and have wingspans from 26-28 inches. Both males and females also have broad wings and rectangular tails.
And now, for some of the common sea/diving ducks that can be found in the state of Alabama!
This diving duck breed has a host of other names it goes by, including Black Coot, Coot, American Scoter, Sea Coot, Common Scoter, and Black Duck. You’ll find this nearly pitch-black duck in the Gulf Coast region during the summers, occasionally, and the Tennessee Valley and mountain regions during fall and winter sometimes too. They feed in coastal waters, so you’ll locate them mostly there. You can find one on a lake every once in a while, though.
Males of this breed are easy to identify since they are entirely black except for the orangish bump on the base of their bills. Females look quite different with their more brownish coloring (with the addition of white areas on the chin, cheeks, and throat). The other difference between male and female? Males are closer to 20 inches in length and weigh approximately 2.5 pounds, while females are just under 19 inches in length and weigh around 2.2 pounds. Both sexes have brown eyes and longer tails than other scoter breeds, plus wingspans in the area of 27-28 inches long.
The Bufflehead not only has an interesting name (and common names that include Dipper and Butterball), but it has an interesting appearance as well! Typically found in the Gulf Coast and Tennessee Valley regions throughout the late fall, winter, and early spring, this duck breed can be found during non-breeding season in coastal beach areas, shallow saltwater coves, and freshwater ponds or lakes. During breeding season, they move to deep lakes or ponds on the smaller side surrounded by woods.
The sexes of this breed look quite different, so you should have no trouble telling them apart. Male Buffleheads have a unique coloring on their head that is a mix of green and purple with a white cap on top. Their bodies are white, their backs are black, and they have pink feet and light gray-blue bills. In contrast, female Buffleheads have a patch on the cheek area but are brown all over, minus their sides which are dark gray, and their belly, which is white. Their feet are blue-gray, while their bills are a darker gray.
Both sexes are similar in length, weight, and wingspan. Their length ranges from 12-15 inches, while they weigh just under 1 pound up to 1.5 pounds. Their wingspan is about 21 inches in length.
This larger duck with a big head is relatively common in the Tennessee Valley region during the fall, winter, and spring. You’ll find them making their homes in estuaries, ponds, marshes, and shallow lakes.
When it comes to determining whether a Canvasback is male or female, you shouldn’t have much trouble, despite the fact the sexes look more similar than others on our list. There’s still a big enough difference in coloring to tell who is who. Males have heads and necks that are a beautiful chestnut color with white bodies and black rumps and chests. Females are light brown in the head, neck, tail, and chest area, while their bodies are gray. The best way to tell them apart? Males have red eyes, while females have dark-brown or black eyes.
Both sexes are similar in size. They are between 19-22 inches long, with a wingspan between 31-35 inches, and weigh 2-3.5 pounds.
The Common Goldeneye—otherwise known as the Golden-Eyed Duck, Whistle-Duck, Whistler, Brass-Eyed Whistler, Whistle-Wing, Copper-Head, Bull-Head, or Iron-Head—is a pretty common resident of the Gulf Coast and Tennessee Valley regions of Alabama. You can see them mostly in late fall, winter, and spring; occasionally, you will find them in the summer as well. If you want to see these ducks, you’ll find them nesting in hollow trees located close to freshwater lakes or streams the majority of the time. However, when these locations freeze, they will relocate to open freshwater sources or salt water.
Males and females of this breed look only a bit similar in the shape of their heads (rectangular). Males have a dark green head that tends to look more black and a white spot right next to the base of their bills. Their backs are white, while their sides and stomach are white. The bill is gray and on the short side, while the feet and eyes are yellow (though sometimes the eyes can appear white).
Females, however, have brown heads, a white ring around the neck, and mostly gray bodies (with some white throughout). Their bills are dark with a yellow tip, and females have yellow eyes.
Both sexes are close in size. The average length is between 16-20 inches, the weight is between 1-3 pounds, and the wingspan length is between 30-32 inches.
The Lesser Scaup (yes, there is a Greater one, as well) is commonly found throughout all regions of Alabama in every season except summer, when they can only occasionally be seen. You’ll find this duck hanging about bays, lakes, and rivers.
The easiest way to tell the sexes of this breed apart is via the white patch near the female’s bill (though not every female will have this). Males of this breed will look black and white from far away, but if you see one up close and in the correct lighting, you’ll notice they actually have a purple or green sheen on their heads. Their fronts and rumps will be black, and their backs will be black and white. Bills will be a light gray-blue, while eyes will be yellow.
Females will be brown all over, rather than black and white, with lighter brown sides mixed with white. Their bills and eyes are also darker; bills are black, while eyes are a dark yellow/golden brown.
Both sexes will range in length from 15-18 inches and weigh 1-2 pounds. Wingspans for both will be anywhere from 26-30 inches.
The Ring-necked Duck is also known as the Ringbill or Blackjack. It is most often seen during the late fall, winter, and early spring seasons in all regions of Alabama. While they prefer marshes in forests during nesting season, you may also find them on rivers in wooded areas.
Ring-necked Ducks get their name from the dark brown ring around the male’s neck, but it’s a ring you’ll have a hard time actually seeing. That’s because male Ring-necked Ducks are black and gray, with much of their body being black and their sides being gray. They’ll also have a white patch near their shoulder and a multi-colored bill that is black, white, and gray.
Female Ring-necked Ducks are brown with a gray face. They have a tiny ring of white around the eyes and a white stripe around the base of the bill. Their bills are similar in color to males, though they are grayer.
Both sexes are similar in size, with a length between 15-18 inches, weight between 1-2 pounds, and wings spanning about 24 inches.
Ring-necked Ducks are known for their dives from the sky—the rapid descent sounds similar to a jet!
The Ruddy Duck also goes by the names of Bull-Necked Teal or Butterball. They are most often seen during the winter in the Tennessee Valley region but are relatively common in the other regions then too. You may occasionally see them in fall and spring amongst the regions of Alabama, but rarely during summer. The Ruddy Duck is most often found in open waters or deep marshes, except for nesting season when they move to small pothole areas.
This duck is most easily recognized by its tail made of stiff feathers and shaped like a fan. Males actually change color throughout the year. They more closely resemble female Ruddy Ducks during the winter season as they are brown all over, minus a darker cap on the head and soft white cheeks. The rest of the time, they will have bright white cheeks, chestnut bodies, and blue bills.
Females look like the winter version of the male Ruddy Duck, except their cheeks aren’t white. Instead, they have what looks like a blurry stripe across them. They also have dark bills and eyes.
You definitely can’t tell them apart by size, as both sexes will be around the same length (13-16 inches), weight (just under 1 pound to 2 pounds) and have wingspans between 22-24 inches.
The White Wing Scoter has rarer appearances throughout the state of Alabama. Still, you’ll find them occasionally in the Gulf Coast region during the summer. You might even catch a glimpse in other regions in late fall, winter, or spring. You’ll have to visit a saltwater coastline or freshwater habitat that’s inland to do so, though.
This duck is the largest of the Scoters, with males around 22 inches in length and weighing between 3-5 pounds. Females are approximately 21 inches long and weigh about 2.5 pounds. Both sexes will have wings spanning around 31 inches.
Males are recognizable due to their color—black all over except for a white speculum and white comma shape around the eyes. Their bills will be red-orange and have a big lump at the base. The male’s feet will also be red-orange.
Females are a dark brown instead of black, with a belly that is paler. They’ll have a white speculum similar to the male and two white patches on each side of the head. Instead of a red-orange bill, they will have bills that are dark. These bills will slope and will not have the lump at the base.
As you can see, Alabama is home to a wide range of duck breeds! There are more than are on this list, but these are some of the most commonly seen in the state. From dabbling ducks, who like to stick their heads beneath water to eat to diving ducks who are all in, there’s no shortage of ducks in Alabama.
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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