Migration season provides some of the best bird watching opportunities, particularly for waterfowl.
Heading out with your binoculars can be a lot of fun – especially when you can spot a few characters in the crowd.
The shy ruddy duck who conceals itself in cattails…the fast-flying canvasback… or the boisterous Canada goose. Waterfowl identification may seem overwhelming at first. But, if you keep an eye out for some key clues, you’ll be picking out different wetland species in no time.
What species are you spotting? Record your bird sightings using the Ducks Unlimited Canada Migration Tracker project hosted on iNaturalist.
Record your bird sightings
Waterfowl identification may seem overwhelming at first. But, if you keep an eye out for some key clues, you’ll be picking out different wetland species in no time.
The biggest distinction between different types of ducks is divers and dabblers. Here are a few tips for identifying some common species within these categories:
Dabbling ducks that go “bottoms up” when feeding include the American black duck, American wigeon, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, mallard, northern pintail, northern shoveler, trumpeter swan and wood duck. Diving ducks “take the plunge” by diving below the water’s surface include bufflehead, canvasback, common eider, common loon, harlequin duck, lesser scaup, redhead and ring-necked duck .
Dabblers fly straight up off the water. Divers patter across the water picking up speed before becoming airborne.
Habitat is a key piece of identification. Dabbling ducks are most often found in shallow water around the edges of wetlands. Divers prefer deeper water like in the middle of large wetlands or on lakes and rivers.
Does the type of duck you are looking have a tuft of feathers on its head? What colour are its wingpatches, cap, head, breast, belly, back and tail? How about its eyes, bill or feet? Generally, it’s the male (drake) that has the colourful plumage. Females have duller, drabber appearances to keep them safe on the nest. This can make them more challenging to identify.
Once you get the knack for spotting some of these waterfowl characteristics, you’ll begin to pick up on other differences in size, shape, wingbeat, voice and more.
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