Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

8 Types of Ducks Found in California (With Pictures)

Last Updated on

mallard duck eating

California is a big state with lots of different climate zones where you’ll find all kinds of wildlife, including ducks!

As you’ll see, California is home to many different duck species. It’s also a migration stopover for visiting duck species.

Let’s find out more about a few of the duck species that you’re likely to find throughout California.

binoculars 2 dividerThe 8 Types of Ducks in California

1. Wood Duck

wood duck from the side

Image credit: wam17, Pixabay

The wood duck lives year-round in a large section of California. In the summer, it can be found in the northeastern part of the state. In the winter, it lives in the southern part.

The male is brightly colored and is known for his green head. Females and juveniles are brown.

Wood ducks like to live in quiet shallow ponds. They use old woodpecker holes or nesting boxes provided by humans for nesting.

Unlike many other duck species, you can often find wood ducks perched high up in trees.


2. Ring-Necked Duck

a ring necked duck on the river

Image Credit: leesbirdblog, Pixabay

You can find the ring-necked duck living throughout California in the winter. It migrates to California from Mexico and Central America.

The male has a black head and back and pale gray sides. It has 2 bright white rings on the bill. Females are mostly brown, but they have a white ring on the bill as well as a white eye-ring.

The name “ring-necked” comes from a reddish-brown area on the neck, not from the more brightly colored bill rings.

Ring-necked ducks dive underwater to forage aquatic plants and insects.


3. Gadwall

a-gadwall-duck-on-the-river-8190593-6647490

Image Credit: Psubraty, Pixabay

The gadwall duck lives year-round in the northern third of the state. In the winter, it can be found in the southern two-thirds.

The male’s coloring is mostly gray with a brown head, black rear, and bright white wing markings. Females are mottled brown and can be mistaken for female mallards.

The gadwall lives in marshy areas, primarily feeding on aquatic vegetation. It is also known to walk onto land and forage on the ground.


4. Common Goldeneye

common goldeneye duck in the river Ronald Wittek Shutterstock

Image Credit: Ronald Wittek, Shutterstock

This striking duck migrates from Mexico and lives throughout California in the winter.

As the name implies, both males and females have golden eyes. Males are mostly white, with black backs and green heads. They have large white spots in front of each eye. Females have brown heads and gray bodies.

The common goldeneye makes a distinctive whistling sound with its wings when flying. Males are known for their mating displays.

Female goldeneyes tend to lay their eggs in other goldeneye duck nests, where up to 30 eggs can be found at a time.


5. Northern Shoveler

a-northern-shoveler-duck-on-a-river-8653728-8528777

Image Credit: MabelAmber, Pixabay

The northern shoveler duck is named for its broad flat bill. They use this large bill to feed on small aquatic plants and insects from the water’s surface.

Males have green heads with brown and white coloring on the body. Females are a speckled brown.

They are found in most of California in the winter, migrating from Mexico and Central America.


6. Mallard

mallard duck on grass

Image Credit: Capri23auto, Pixabay

The mallard is a familiar sight in California and many other parts of the US. It lives year-round throughout the entire state.

Males have green heads and gray and brown coloring on the body. Females and juveniles are brown.

They are known as dabbling ducks, which means that they feed on the bottom of shallow bodies of water by tipping forward in the familiar “bottoms up” position.

Mallards will eat food from the ground provided by people.


7. Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon teal duck in the pond

Image Credit: jimsimons, Pixabay

The cinnamon teal is a handsome duck named for the male’s cinnamon-like coloring. Males also have striking red eyes. Females have brown coloring.

This duck lives year-round in southern and coastal California. In the summer it can be found in northern and eastern parts of the state.

Cinnamon teals like to live and nest near marshes and shallow lakes. Females will pretend they are injured to distract perceived predators away from ducklings.


8. Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail duck on a river

Image Credit: Takashi_Yanagisawa, Pixabay

This duck can be found year-round in most of California. It can also be found in the southern and northwestern parts of the state in winter.

Males are known for their long tail feathers. Their tails are longer than any other North American duck species. They have brown heads, white necks, and gray bodies. Females have pale brown heads and mottled brown bodies.

The northern pintail lives in marshy areas, and the bulk of its diet is aquatic plants. Females will consume large numbers of insects before nesting.

binoculars 2 dividerWhat is the most common duck in California?

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are a few species of ducks that are the most numerous in the state.

They are the mallard, gadwall, and cinnamon teal. In California’s most recent waterfowl population survey, they accounted for 85% of all ducks observed.


Featured Image Credit: Capri23auto, Pixabay

About the Author Lisa Hertz

Lisa is a Southern California-based writer who combines her lifelong passion for animals with a background in library and information science. She has master’s degrees in English and library science and experience in both academic librarianship and non-profit research, indexing and abstracting, and information resource management. When not writing, Lisa volunteers with a local pet charity, enjoys native plant and waterwise gardening, going to the beach, and curling up with a good book.

Lisa Hertz Profile Picture