Tips for Identifying Ducks in Flight
To a layperson, a duck is a duck. But if you’re about to embark on a hunting trip, it can be useful to be able to quickly identify the different species of waterfowl flying through the air. Having this information can help responsible hunters to refrain from firing at protected or endangered species, and to be aware of their daily limits for each species.
There are some basic features which often hold the key to identifying different species of duck:
- Plumage (patterns and colors)
- Wing beat
- Flocking behavior
What are some of the most common ducks to look out for?
Mallard ducks are found in all flyways, and the drakes (males) can be identified by their striking green heads. The hens (females) have some blue plumage like the males, but their heads are the same color as their bodies.
Here’s how you can be sure if you’ve seen a Mallard:
- Their main wintering area is the Mississippi basin or along the Gulf coast, but some stay as northerly as the waterways allow.
- You can find flocks of Mallards feeding in the early morning or late evening near recently harvested fields.
- Hens have a loud ‘quack’, while drakes make a more low-pitched ‘kwek-kwek’ noise.
The Mexican Duck is a close relative of the Mallard and is the most prominent waterfowl species found in the Southwestern US and Mexico. Mainly found in west-central Mexico, these omnivorous ducks forage by land and water but rarely dive fully submerged beneath the surface.
Have you seen a Pintail duck?
- Pintails are most commonly found in the west, and they are very fast but smooth flyers.
- They have a long neck and tail compared to Mallards, but their overall size and weight is smaller.
- Drakes of the species whistle, whereas hens have a more rough sounding ‘quack’.
Some ducks, like American wigeons, like to dabble in shallower water as opposed to exploring deep, vast lakes. Here’s how to identify an American wigeon:
- They are a medium-sized duck with a small, round head and a short bill.
- Breeding drakes sport a green patch around the eye.
- These ducks make a high-pitched whistling noise, and tend to startle easily.
These are just a few of the most common ducks you can hunt around the North American continent, and it makes a great starting point for your knowledge of identifying waterfowl!
Jack Vale is a writer in partnership with steel piping distributors Fed Steel.