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Publication #WEC243

Ducks of Florida1

Emma Willcox and William M. Giuliano2

Birdwatchers and hunters alike enjoy encountering the many species of ducks living on fresh and salt water across the state of Florida. This document provides information for those individuals wishing to learn how to identify these often beautiful and colorful birds. It also provides information on their natural history.

Ducks, which along with the swans and geese belong to the family Anatidae, can be divided into three types: the dabbling ducks, the diving ducks, and the sea ducks/mergansers. Representatives of each of these ducks can be seen in Florida and are described below. For each species, information is provided on their habitat, appearance, and range. We have included information on duck reproduction as well, although all but one of the ducks described migrate north to breed, only wintering in Florida. As is the case with many bird species, male ducks are the most easily recognized due to their distinctive patterning and coloration. Females are typically drabber and less distinguishable. Therefore, this document provides characteristics for identifying the males of each species only, along with photographs of both the males and females where available. It should be noted that outside the breeding season males may appear duller than described and shown in images.

Dabbling Ducks

Dabbling ducks feed primarily on the water’s surface by straining water through their bills and upending their bodies to reach deeper food items. As a result of these feeding habits, they prefer to occupy shallow ponds, creeks, lakes, wetlands, sloughs, and marshes. They will also feed while walking on land by picking up food with the tips of their bills. Dabbling ducks commonly eat seeds, aquatic vegetation, rice, aquatic invertebrates, and some small fish.

Dabbling ducks ride high in the water and are able to launch themselves directly upward when taking off. They do not need to run across the water to build up speed for takeoff as diving ducks do. They are also excellent swimmers, sure-footed on land, and swift, agile fliers.

The dabbling ducks include species with a wide range of plumage patterns. The males are typically brightly colored, while the females tend to be colored with a mixture of mottled browns. Species commonly found in Florida include the gadwall, mallard, mottled duck, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, wood duck, and American wigeon.

Gadwall (Anas strepera)

The gadwall is common on fresh water and sheltered salt water ponds, sloughs, wetlands, and marshes. Gadwalls are typically observed swimming in pairs or small groups, often interspersed with American wigeon.

Figure 1. 

Male gadwall.


Credit: Glen Smart/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 2. 

Female Gadwall.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- Gray body

- Brownish back

- Brown head and neck

- Dark bill

- Hind end black

- White patch in wing visible in flight may be hidden at rest

- Size 46-57 cm (18-22 in)

- Wingspan 84 cm (33 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds from southeastern Alaska to the Great Lakes southward to Texas and California. Greatest breeding densities occur in the prairie states and provinces.

- Winters in southern half of the US and southward to Mexico and Cuba.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down

- Incubation period 24-27 days by female

- Clutch size 7-15 white to dull cream eggs

- First flight at 48-56 days old

- 1 brood per year

Mallard (Anas Platyrhynchos)

The mallard is one of the most familiar waterfowl species in the world and is very common throughout Florida. It can be found almost anywhere shallow fresh water occurs with some birds residing in salt water marshes and bays.

Figure 3. 

Male mallard.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 4. 

Female mallard.


Credit: Tim Bowman/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Large duck

- White sides and underparts

- Purple-chestnut breast

- Shiny green head

- Back of wing shiny blue with white line in front and behind

- Legs orange

- Size 50-65 cm (20-26 in)

- Wingspan 82-95 cm (32-37 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds from Alaska to Nova Scotia southward to Mexico, northern Texas, Tennessee, and northern Georgia.

- Winters from southern Canada southward to Gulf Coast, northern Florida, and into northern Mexico.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down

- Incubation period 23-30 days by female

- Clutch size 1-13 creamy to greenish buff eggs

- First flight at 52-72 days old

- 1 brood per year

Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula)

The mottled duck is a duller version of the mallard that occupies the southern marshes and coastal prairies of the US. The species is in danger of being displaced by the commoner mallard duck as a result of hybridization.

Figure 5. 

Male mottled duck.


Credit: Luther Goldman/USGS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Large duck

- Dark brown body with buff mottling

- Head and neck light brown with fine dark streaking

- White underwing lining

- Greenish-blue at back of wing

- Yellow-green bill in males

- Size 44-61 cm (17-24 in)

- Wingspan 860 cm (339 in)

  • Range:

- Resident breeding and wintering from Florida to Gulf Coast of northern Mexico. Introduced to coastal South Carolina.

- Present in Florida all year round.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down from the female’s breast

- Incubation period 24-28 days by female

- Clutch size 5-13 white to greenish white eggs

- First flight at 60-70 days old

- 1 brood per year

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

The blue-winged teal is found on shallow ponds. After the mallard, it is the second most abundant duck in North America. Members of this species travel great distances between breeding and wintering grounds, up to 7000 miles.

Figure 6. 

Male blue-winged teal.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 7. 

Female blue-winged teal and brood.


Credit: John Hollingsworth/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Brown or gray overall

- Large light blue patches, visible in flight, on front of wing

- Face gray-blue with white at base of bill

- Male with white crescent on face

- Bill blackish

- Legs and feet yellow

- Size 36-41 cm (14-16 in)

- Wingspan 56-63 cm (22-24 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds across most of North America from Alaska to the Atlantic Coast and as far south as Texas and Louisiana.

- Winters in small numbers along the southern coastlines of the US, from California and the Carolinas Southward.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down from the female’s breast

- Incubation period 22-27 days by female

- Clutch size 6-14 creamy white eggs

- First flight at 35-49 days old

- 1 brood per year

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

The green-winged teal occupies shallow ponds with emergent vegetation, tidal creeks, mudflats, and marshes. It is one of the fastest and most agile ducks on the wing, forming small flocks that wheel and bank across the water.

Figure 8. 

Male green-winged teal.


Credit: Donna Dewhurst/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 9. 

Green-winged teal pair.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Small duck found in North America

- Wings with iridescent green patches and white stripe in front

- Yellowish tail stripe

- Male with dark reddish and green head and white stripe up shoulder

- Bill blackish

- Size 31-39 cm (12-15 in)

- Wingspan 52-59 cm (20-23 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds throughout Alaska and Canada, southward to northern Great Plains and Great Lakes.

- Winters in lower two thirds of the US southward to Mexico.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down

- Incubation period 20-24 days by female

- Clutch size 6-18 cream, light olive, or buff eggs

- First flight at around 34 days old

- 1 brood per year

American Wigeon (Anas americana)

The American wigeon can be observed occupying freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, and swamps. The species often forages for food in flocks and can regularly be seen grazing in fields.

Figure 10. 

Male American Wigeon.


Credit: Donna Dewhurst/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 11. 

Female American wigeon and brood.


Credit: Donna Dewhurst/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- Reddish brown breast and sides

- Gray head

- Green eye stripe

- White forehead and crown

- Black tail feathers bordered by white

- Large white patch on wings

- Size 42-59 cm (17-23 in)

- Wingspan 84 cm (33 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds throughout Alaska and Canada, south into northern portion of the US.

- Winters from southern Alaska and British Columbia along the Pacific Coast to California and from southern US southward into northern South American.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down from the female’s breast

- Incubation period 22-25 days by female

- Clutch size 3-12 white to creamy white eggs

- First flight at 45-63 days old

- 1 brood per year

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

Often considered one of the most beautiful ducks in North America, the wood duck occupies wooded swamps and streamsides. It is one of only a few duck species to nest in trees and, if tree cavities are lacking, nest boxes

Figure 12. 

Male wood duck.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 13. 

Female wood duck.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- Long pointed head crest

- White lines on black-green head and crest

- U-shaped white patch on face and neck

- Red, white, black, and yellow bill

- Burgundy breast with white

- spotting

- Iridescent blue-green back

- Size 47-54 cm (19-21 in)

- Wingspan 66-73 cm (26-29 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds from southern Canada, throughout the eastern half of the US. In the West, breeds from British Columbia southward along Pacific Coast to southern California

- Winters in southern three-quarters of breeding range, and in Southwest.

  • Reproduction:

- Wood ducks nest in tree cavities or nest boxes lined with down

- Incubation period 22-25 days by female

- Clutch size 6-15 creamy or dull white eggs

- First flight at 56-70 days old

- 1 brood per year

Diving Ducks

Diving ducks typically frequent large, deep, lakes, rivers, and coastal bays where they plunge underwater to feed on fish, shellfish, mollusks and aquatic plants. The large, broad, fully webbed feet of these ducks, with their strongly lobed hind toes, act as paddles. In addition, the location of their legs set far back on the body and their relatively small wings help improve diving efficiency. While these characteristics help with their diving and swimming, they hinder the ability of diving ducks to become airborne. Instead of springing straight out of the water into flight, as dabbling ducks are able to do, they must run across the water to build up speed before taking off. Their highly webbed feet and position of the legs to the rear of the body make them more awkward on land than the dabbling ducks.

Diving duck species often seen in Florida include the canvasback, redhead, ring-necked duck, greater scaup, and lesser scaup.

Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

Canvasback ducks are typically seen in large flocks on deep lakes and bays. They are also often observed in smaller numbers among flocks of scaup. Canvasbacks are wary and swift in flight, often flying high in V-formation.

Figure 14. 

Male canvasback.


Credit: Eugene Hester/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 15. 

Female canvasback.


Credit: Tim Bowman/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Large sleek duck

- Long sloping profile

- Whitish sides and upperparts

- Black breast and tail

- Rust red head and neck

- Long dark bill

- Red eye

- Size 48-56 cm (19-22 in)

- Wingspan 79-89 cm (31-35 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds from Alaska to the Northwest Territories southward to Nevada and Minnesota.

- Winters across much of the coastal and southern US.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground or a bowl of vegetation lined with down.

- Incubation period 23-29 days by female

- Clutch size 5-11 grayish or greenish olive eggs

- First flight at 56-60 days old

- 1 brood per year

Redhead (Aythya americana)

Although classified as a diving duck, the redhead is often seen dabbling in shallow water. It is seen in small numbers among flocks of mixed ducks in most areas. However, in winter the species can form huge flocks on lakes, bays, and lagoons.

Figure 16. 

Male redhead.


Credit: Dick Pospahala/ USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 17. 

Female redhead and brood.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- Rounded head

- Smoky gray sides and upperparts

- Black breast and tail

- Rufous brown head and neck

- Blue-gray bill with black tip

- Golden yellow eye

- Size 42-54 cm (17-21 in)

- Wingspan 75-78 cm (30-31 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds in central Alaska, the Great Plains, and locally throughout the West. Also in scattered

localities around the Great Lakes.

- Winters in much of US and Mexico with open water.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a bowl of grasses lined with down constructed on the ground or on a platform

- Incubation period 23-29 days by female

- Clutch size 9-14 pale olive, buff, or white eggs

- First flight at 56-73 days old

- 1 brood per year

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

Ringed-necked ducks tend to favor sheltered waters more than the other diving ducks do. They are often found in small flocks on small, tree-lined ponds and shallow Florida lakes where they dive for plants and seeds.

Figure 18. 

Male ring-necked duck.


Credit: Lee Karney/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- Bump or peak on back of head

- Blue-gray sides and flanks

- Black breast, neck, and tail

- Black head with purplish gloss

- Blue-gray bill with black tip and broad white ring

- Orange-yellow eye

- Size 39-46 cm (15-18 in)

- Wingspan 62-63 cm (24-25 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds across Canada southward to the northern US, and farther southward to northern California and Colorado.

- Winters across the southern US, up the coasts, and southward through Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a bowl of grasses lined with down constructed on the ground or a floating platform

- Incubation period 25-29 days by female

- Clutch size 6-14 olive, gray, or green-buff eggs

- First flight at 49-56 days old

- 1 brood per year

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)

The greater scaup is found mainly along the coast being seen less often inland. Big flocks of the duck gather on open waters (lakes and saltwater bays). On salt water it typically outnumbers lesser scaup

Figure 19. 

Male greater scaup.


Credit: Donna Dewhurst/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 20. 

Female greater scaup and brood.


Credit: Donna Dewhurst/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- White sides and belly

- Finely barred gray flanks and back

- Rounded black head with greenish gloss

- Blue-gray bill

- Black neck and breast

- Black tail

- Size 39-56 cm (15-22 in)

- Wingspan 72-79 cm (28-31 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds from Alaska to Labrador, and in scattered localities across Canada

- Winters primarily on Pacific and Atlantic coasts from Alaska to Baja California, and from Newfoundland to Texas. Also seen on the Great Lakes and other unfrozen large lakes.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a depression scraped in the ground and lined with vegetation and down

- Incubation period 24-28 days by female

- Clutch size 5-13 brownish olive-buff eggs

- First flight at 35-42 days old

- 1 brood per year

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

Lesser scaup are common in large flocks on ponds, lakes, and saltwater bays. It outnumbers greater scaup on freshwater and in shallow water habitats. It is one of the most abundant diving ducks in North America

Figure 21. 

Male lesser scaup.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 22. 

Female lesser scaup.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Medium sized duck

- Medium gray barring on back and flanks

- Black breast and neck

- Pointed black head with purple gloss

- Bluish gray bill with black tip

- Black tail

- Yellow eye

- Size 39-46 cm (15-18 in)

- Wingspan 68-78 cm (27-31 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds from Alaska and western Ontario southward to Minnesota, northern Colorado, and very northern California.

- Winters across US where water is open, southward through Caribbean and Central America to northern South America.

  • Reproduction:

- Nest is a bowl of grasses placed on the ground or on a mound of vegetation over water and lined with down

- Incubation period 24-28 days by female

- Clutch size 6-14 olive or greenish buff eggs

- First flight at around 55 days old

- 1 brood per year

Mergansers

Mergansers are large, crested, fish-eating diving ducks. Their bills are slender and hooked with serrated edges to help them grip their prey. As a result they are also known as sawbills. Most species are found in coastal areas but in Florida they have also become established on inland lakes and rivers. Mergansers have excellent diving skills and often dive to considerable depths in search of food. They are extremely tolerant of salt water and have compact plumage with heavy down suitable for cold climates. Two merganser species are seen in Florida, the hooded merganser and the red-breasted merganser.

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

The hooded merganser favors small lakes and ponds, especially those surrounded by trees. In winter it is also often found occupying ponds in coastal marshes. The species almost never forms large flocks.

Figure 23. 

Male hooded merganser.


Credit: Tim McCabe/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 24. 

Female hooded merganser.


Credit: Glen Smart/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Description of male:

- Small to medium sized duck

- Chestnut sides

- Black back with white stripes

- White breast with two black bars

- Fluffy white fan-shaped crest

- Black head and tail

- Black bill

- Size 40-49cm (16-19 in)

- Wingspan 60-66 cm (24-26 in)

Range:

- Breeds in British Columbia, Oregon, Montana, Saskatchewan, and the Dakotas to the Atlantic Coast, Nova Scotia, Louisiana and Florida.

- Winters from Alaska to California, and Arizona. Also from Minnesota, Ontario, and Maine southward to Gulf Coast and Florida.

Reproduction:

- Hooded mergansers nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Nests are lined with downy feathers from the chest of the female

- Incubation period 26-41 days by female

- Clutch size 5-44 white eggs

- First flight at around 55 days old

- 1 brood per year

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

In winter the red-breasted merganser is usually found occupying salt water lagoons and bays where it is often observed around coastal jetties and beaches. It typically flies fast and low over the water.

Figure 25. 

Male red-breasted merganser.


Credit: Dave Menke/USFWS.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

  • Description of male:

- Small to medium sized duck

- Gray wavy-lined sides and flanks

- Black upperparts

- Spiked black crest

- Blackish head with green gloss

- Narrow hooked serrated red bill

- Streaked chestnut breast to waterline

- Size 51-64 cm (20-25 in)

- Wingspan 66-74 cm (26-29 in)

  • Range:

- Breeds across Alaska and northern Canada southward to very northeastern United States. Winters along all coasts and in Great Lakes from Alaska and Newfoundland southward to Mexico.

  • Reproduction:

- Red-breasted mergansers nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Nests are lined with downy feathers from the chest of the female

- Incubation period 26-41 days by female

- Clutch size 5-44 white eggs

- First flight at around 55 days old

- 1 brood per year

Footnotes

1.

This document is WEC243, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 2008. Reviewed April 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Emma V. Willcox, former wildlife Extension agent; and William M. Giuliano, professor and wildlife Extension specialist; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.