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British Ducks

Common Scoter


Common scoter

Melanitta nigra

The common scoter is a large, elegant sea duck with a heavy body, slender neck, and long, pointed tail. On water, it sits up high with raised head and tail, but will lower its head to flap its wings. They are often seen in large rafts offshore, or flying in long lines along the coast.

Adult males are black with pale grey under the wing tips which are more visible in flight. The bill is wedge-shaped with a yellow patch on the top. The legs are black.

Females are dark brown with barring. On the head, the cap is blackish-brown, and the cheek is dusky brown. Juveniles are similar to females but with paler underparts.

Common scoters feed by diving with a short forward jump with closed wings. They feed individually or in groups, diving and resurfacing together.

They breed near moorland lakes and winter offshore in large sandy bays, usually in shallow water. During migration they will also visit fresh waters inland.




Somateria mollissima

The eider is a large sea duck with a wedge-shaped head, and short, often cocked tail. It is the UK’s heaviest duck and its fastest flying. They are gregarious, often staying close to the shore riding the swell, or forming long lines further out beyond breaking waves.

The adult male has a black body, white back and flank spot, and a salmon-pink breast that can fade to yellow. It has a black crown on its white head and a green patch at the back of the neck. The wedge-shaped bill is pale grey. During eclipse, it is darker with white patches and a pale brown head and crown.

The female is brown with dark bars, and juveniles are similar.

Eiders feed by diving, dipping, and up-ending often in shallow water, foraging for molluscs, crustaceans, and sometimes fish. They can also swim underwater. The male’s haunting call carries far, while the female produces a series of guttural sounds during breeding season.

Eiders breed in the north of the UK on coasts and islands. In winter, they are more widespread but rarely come inland.




Anas acuta

The pintail is a large, elegant duck with a deep, heavy body, pointed wings, small head, and long neck. The male has grey and black upperparts, a white breast, and a long black and white tail spike. The head is cinnamon coloured with a distinctive white stripe on the neck. The bill is blue-grey with a black stripe, and the legs are grey.

In eclipse plumage, the male is brown with darker soft bars, streaks, and chequered pattern. The head is pale ginger with no stripes, and the bill is black with blue sides.

The female pintail is similar to the male in eclipse plumage with streaks and a lacey pattern. The head is plain, while the bill and legs are grey.

Pintails feed by upending, dabbling, and dipping in shallow water. When upending the tail is pointed down. They also graze on land picking at grain, and using its bill to dig out roots and tubers.

Pintails are found mainly on estuaries, but are also found inland on flooded meadows and lakes. Wintering birds arrive in September and numbers peak in December.




Anas strepera

The gadwall is a fairly common, large dabbling duck, similar in shape to the mallard, with a square head, steep, sloping forehead, and slim bill. The male is grey with a black rump, and black streaks on the back with pale edges to the feathers. There is a white wing patch, visible in flight. The head is buff with a pale, silvery face, and the bill is dark grey.

In eclipse, the plumage is mottled with a pale belly, and the bill has orange sides.

The female is similar to the male in eclipse plumage and very similar to the female mallard. The head is grey and the tail is dull. The bill has orange sides, and the legs are orange.

Gadwalls feed by upending on the surface of shallow water. They also dive underwater for food, better than many other dabbling ducks, and occasionally steal from other species such as coots.

They are found anywhere where there is water including coasts, wet grasslands, marshes, and high moors, as well as park ponds. They can be seen all year round but are most populous from October to March when wintering birds arrive.

Male And Female Garganeys



Spatula querquedula

The garganey is a small, secretive dabbling duck, slightly larger than the teal. The male has a dark brown back with pale fringes on the feathers, and drooping feathers over the wing. There is a pale blue patch with white edges on the forewings visible in flight. The underparts are warm brown with a white belly and fine grey markings on the flanks. On the head there is a white crescent above the eye, and white flecks on the foreneck. The bill is dark grey.

In eclipse plumage, the back is scaly and there are pale spots on the flanks. The underparts are pale. There is a pale stripe through the eye, and the chin is white.

The female garganey is like the male in eclipse plumage but paler. There is an obvious white spot near the bill.

Garganeys rarely updend completely when feeding and tend to dip just their head or skim the surface of the water with their bill.

The garganey is a rare summer visitor and scarce migrant. They can be seen in the UK between March and October in freshwater habitats, such as wet meadows and ditches.




Anas penelope

The wigeon is a common dabbling duck, with short legs and a short bill. They form noisy flocks to graze on land or swim, and will fly up together when disturbed.

The male is blue-grey with a black rump and pink breast. The flanks are white as is the forewing which is visible in flight. The head is reddish-brown with a pale forehead and grey bill with a black tip. The legs and feet are grey.

The female has grey-brown to tawny barred and spotted plumage, with a white belly, and plain flanks. The head is grey with a dark smudge behind the eye.

The male in eclipse plumage is similar to the female but more red and with a white wing patch.

Wigeons feed by dabbling, tipping downwards from the surface of the water. They also readily graze, often forming sizeable flocks on agricultural land. Their legs are positioned further forward on their body than many other ducks which makes walking on dry land easier, but diving difficult.

Wigeons are a rare breeder in the UK, but from September the populations swells as they are joined by winter visitors from Russia and Scandinavia. Large numbers can be found around the coast as well as in estuaries, lakes, and wet meadows.




Anas platyrhynchos

The mallard is one of our most familiar ducks and due to domestic breeding, may often appear quite tame. It is a medium-sized dabbling duck with long, stocky bodies, round heads, and wide, flat bills. The male has a grey body with brown bands lengthways, a chestnut-brown breast, and black and white tail. On the wing there is a dark blue patch with white borders visible in flight. The head is green with a blue or purple gloss, with a white neck-ring, and yellow bill. The legs and feet are bright orange.

The female is brown with dark streaks and brown ‘V’ shapes on the flanks. The tail is white, and the wings have the blue and white patches like the male. The head is grey with fine stripes, and the bill is brown with orange or yellow marks.

In eclipse plumage, the male is similar to the female but rustier coloured, and with a dark green cap and eyestripe, and yellow bill.

Mallards upend in shallow water, feed from the surface, and sometimes dive. They also graze on dry land, and forage for food in fields and woodland.

They can be seen all year round in the UK but are most numerous in winter. They are found in any areas where there is water including in urban parks.




Tadorna tadorna

The shelduck is a large, heavy duck with long legs, bigger than a mallard, but smaller than a goose. The male has a bright white body with long black bands on the back, and a reddish-brown band around the breast and upper back. There is a thick, black stripe on the belly and orange-brown under the tail. The wings are white with black, dark green, and chestnut patches. The head and neck are very dark green with a vivid red spoon-shaped bill that curves upward and a large basal knob. The legs and feet are pink.

The female is similar, but has white patches on the face, and lacks the basal knob.

Shelducks are aquatic birds and feed by dabbling in shallow water or digging in mud. They spend much of their time on land including perching in trees.

There is a fairly widespread breeding population in the UK, but the best time to see them is in winter when they are joined by migrants from the north. They can be found in coastal marshes, lagoons, estuaries, gravel pits, lakes, reservoirs, and wet meadows.

Male & Female Teals


Eurasian teal

Anas crecca

The teal is the UK’s smallest duck. It is a compact, dabbling duck with a short body, relatively large head, short neck, and small bill. The male in breeding plumage is dark grey with a white striped edged with black along the length of its body, and a mustard-coloured triangle on the side of its rump. There is a green flash on the edge of the wing, most obvious in flight, which helps distinguish it from the garganey. The head is cinnamon with a wide green panel edged with cream on the sides, and the bill is dark.

The female is mottled brown overall with a white streak by the tail. The green stripe on the wing is less bright, and the bill is grey with a pink base. The male in eclipse plumage resembles the female.

Teals feed by upending, dabbling, or grazing. It may also submerge its head completely, and occasionally dives.

It is a scarce breeder found on upland moors and mires, but is a common and widespread winter visitor when it is joined by migrants from the Siberia, northern Europe, and Iceland. Look out for them on lakes, pits, and estuaries.

Red-Breasted Merganser


Red-breasted merganser

Tufted Ducks


Tufted duck

Aythya fuligula

The tufted duck is a medium-sized diving duck with a rounded head, steep forehead, and distinctive, drooping crest on the back of its head. In breeding plumage, the male has a black back and breast, white flanks and underparts. The flight feathers are black with white tips. The head is black with a purple gloss on the cheeks, the eyes are golden-yellow, and the slim bill is grey with a black tip. Some males have white patches above the bill, similar to the scaup.

The female is chocolate brown with paler flanks, and white underparts, and the crest is shorter. She also may have white patches around the base of the bill. The male in eclipse plumage looks like the female.

Tufted ducks feed mainly by diving. The dive lasts from between 15 and 20 seconds and they reach depths of about 2.5 m. They also skim flies and duckweed floating on the surface of water.

It is a fairly common and widespread breeder found across the UK except the very north of Scotland. It is joined by winter visitors from northern Europe and Iceland. It can be found on freshwater lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers, and gravel pits. It is occasionally spotted swimming in the sea.



Northern shoveler

Anas clypeata

The shoveler is a large dabbling duck with a long body and wings, big head and long, heavy bill. It swims low in the water with its head pointing forward. The male in breeding plumage has a black back, reddish-brown flanks, white breast, and black and white tail and rump. The forewing is pale blue and green flash on the hindwing separated by a white stripe. The head is blackish-green, with yellow eyes and a black bill, and the legs and feet are orange.

The female is pale brown with streaks overall and a darker belly, dark eyes, and a brown to orange bill. She has a blue wing patch. In eclipse plumage, the male is similar to the female but with redder plumage, and a grey head with a white crescent on the face.

Shovelers feed by swimming slowly across water, skimming the surface from side to side with its bill. It sometimes submerges its head. They often feed in groups, swimming in circles to churn up the water and bring food to the surface.

It is a scarce breeder, but a fairly common winter visitor found mainly in the south and east of England. Look out for them on lakes, reservoirs, salt marches, and coastal lagoons.



Common pochard

Aythya ferina

The pochard is a medium-sized, stocky diving duck with a round head and body, short neck, sloping forehead, tapered bill, and legs set well back on its body. The male is pale grey with a dark brown breast and rump, and silver-grey flight feathers on the wings. The head is a rich reddish-brown with red eyes, and a dark bill with a pale blue-grey band.

The female is grey with brown mottles with a darker brown breast, and rump. The head his pale, dull brown with a white eyering and white around the bill and throat. The bill is grey with a pale central band. Males in eclipse plumage is like the female but has a redder head and red eyes.

Pochards are gregarious and often form flocks with tufted ducks. They feed by diving to depths of 1 – 2.5 m but also by upending and dabbling. They tend to be most active at dusk and dawn and during the night, and spend the day sleeping on water.

It is a scarce breeder found in lakes with reed beds. In winter the population increases as residents are joined by visitors from eastern and western Europe, when they can be spotted in gravel pits, slow-flowing rivers, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs.

Male And Female Goldeneye



Bucephala clangula

The goldeneye is a compact diving duck with a rounded head, short neck, and relatively long tail. The male in breeding plumage has a black back and rump, and white underparts. The head is black with a green gloss and a white patch on the cheek. The eyes are yellow, the bill is black, and the legs and feet are orange.

The female is grey with white tips on the feathers, and a white innerwing with two dark bars. The head is chocolate brown with a white neck collar, the bill is grey with an orange band, the eyes are yellow or white, and the legs and feet are orange. In eclipse plumage, the male is similar to the female, but the head is darker. The white body and face patch develops over winter.

Goldeneyes feed mainly by diving up to depths of 4 m. They will occasionally dabble and upend in shallow water although this is usually only practised by juveniles.

They are a rare breeder but are fairly common and widespread in the winter when migrants arrive from Russia, Scandinavia, and northeast Europe. They can be found along the coast, on lakes, pools, and reservoirs, and nest in holes in trees and even nest boxes.




Mergellus albellus

The smew is a compact diving duck with a long body, small head, steep forehead, and delicate bill. The male in breeding plumage is mainly white with a black back, grey rump and flanks, and two fine black lines on the sides of its breast. It has a black eyepatch and a black patch on the back of its head, and a white crest that may be raised upright or pushed forward.

The female is grey with darker flanks, and white on the back and the front of the wings. The head is rufous except for the throat and lower cheeks which are white, and a dark patch around the eye. In eclipse plumage, the male is like the female but with darker upperparts and a white patch on the wing. He develops his white body over winter.

The smew is a sawbill, a group of ducks named for their serrated bills that have evolved to catch fish. It feeds by diving from the surface and swimming underwater as it chases after its prey.

It is a rare duck in the UK found mainly in the south over winter, and can be rather elusive so can be difficult to spot, but look out for them amongst reeds and other vegetation by lakes, reservoirs, and flooded gravel pits.

Male And Female Mandarin Ducks


Mandarin duck

Aix galericulata

The mandarin is an unmistakable, brightly coloured, perching duck that was introduced from the Far East. In breeding plumage, the male has an olive-brown back and tail, white underparts, and a maroon breast bordered with black and white stripes. The flanks are gold and black, and the upper tail is blue-green, and the feathers over the tail form a sail shape. On the head there is a broad white stripe over the eye, the crown is green and purple, and it has long chestnut-coloured feathers on its cheek. The bill is red with a paler tip.

The female is pale grey with a darker grey back, and a grey head and neck. There is white ring around the eye and a white line behind it. The bill is grey, and she lacks the sails of the male. The male in eclipse plumage is similar to the female but he has an orange bill.

Mandarin ducks feed by dabbling, grazing on land, and wading in shallow water. They are often seen near trees and can sometimes be seen perching in them, particularly during breeding season.

They are found mainly in the south of England although local populations can be found across the country. Look out for them in wooded lakes and ponds in parks.

Male and Female Goosanders



Mergus merganser

The goosander is a heavily-build seaduck with a long body, bulbous forehead, and long, hooked bill. In breeding plumage, the male is white or pale pink with a black back. The inner wing is white, while the outer wing is black The head is dark green with a dropping crest, and a deep red bill.

The female is grey with a reddish-brown head and neck divided from the body by a white band. She has a white patch on the chin, a drooping crest, and a red bill. The male in eclipse plumage resembles the female but has a larger white wing patch.

Goosanders are diving ducks and like other sawbills have serrations on the bill which enables them to grip fish easily. They can often be seen standing on the edge of water or resting on a rock in the middle of a river partially opening their wings to the sun.

It is a scarce breeder usually found near rivers. It becomes much more widespread in winter when visitors arrive from Scandinavia and north east Europe when it can be spotted on large lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.



Greater scaup

Aythya marila

The scaup is a medium-sized diving duck that is similar to the tufted duck and pochard. It is bulky with a rounded head and broad bill. The male in breeding plumage has a grey back, and white underparts with dark breast and rump. There is a white stripe on the upper wing which distinguishes it from the pochard. The head is black with a green sheen, the eyes are yellow and the bill is grey with a black tip.

The female pale brown with a grey back and darker head. There is a white patch around the base of the bill and a pale ear patch. The male in eclipse plumage is similar to its breeding plumage except the pale parts are buffy grey.

Scaups feed by diving and swimming underwater. In shallow water they will also dabble and upend. They feed both during the day and at night depending on the tides.

They are a scarce winter visitor, mainly found on the north, north west, and north east coasts usually offshore or in estuaries, but occasionally inland.

Long-tailed ducks


Long-tailed duck

Clangula hyemalis

The long-tailed duck is a small sea duck. It has a squat, thickset body with a long tail, large round head, and short, triangular-shaped bill. The male in summer plumage has a streaked black and reddish buff back, with a dark breast and head, paler face, and white eyering. In winter plumage, he is white with dark brown bands on the back, grey flanks, and a broad breast band. There is a two-town brown patch on the side of the head, and the bill is dark with a pink band.

The female in summer plumage is dark brown with a dark cap and cheek, a fine white line from the back of the eye, and white patch on the neck. In winter plumage, she is dark brown above and pale below, with a white head, dark cap, and dark smudge on the cheek. The bill is grey with no pink band.

Long-tailed ducks feed by diving and swimming underwater, using its wings to dive to depths of 55 m, deeper than any other species of duck. It may be submerged for up to 60 seconds. They are gregarious and can often be seen in long, straggling flocks flying low over the sea.

They are a scarce winter visitor arriving from northern Europe. Look out for them off the north and east coasts as well as in sandy bays. They may occasionally be found inland.

Male And Female Velvet Scoter


Velvet scoter

Melanitta fusca

The velvet scoter is a large, bulky sea duck with a thick neck, angular-shaped head, long bill, and pointed tail. The male is black overall with prominent white wing patches that are obvious in flight. On the head, there is a small white patch under the eye, the bill is yellow with black on the top, and the legs and feet are red.

The female has chocolate brown plumage with a white spot on the cheek and a pale patch near the bill, which is black. The legs are dull red.

Velvet scoters mainly feed by diving using its wings and feet to propel itself underwater. It can often be found in flocks with common scoters.

It is a scarce winter visitor from Scandinavia and becoming rarer. Look out for them offshore and in bays around the north east coast. They are occasionally found inland.

Red-Crested Pochard


Red-crested pochard


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4 Responses

  1. With a marine lake nearby, pairs of mallards visit the lawn area of the block of flats where I live. Today there was a third, a different species of duck , about the same size but thinner and a neck stretched so it seemed taller. Black with some white splodges in front, it followed the mallards , moving its head in a dipping motion. It looked like a kind of mating ritual .

  2. Half a dozen ducks landed on the angling pond next to our house today – they strongly resemble eider (both male and female), but I’m in the west midlands where the description says they shouldn’t be!

  3. I have a healthy interest in birds. I was walking past a small pond in a small wood, spotted 2 ducks. Slightly smaller than a Mallard. Brown female, male had a blue / white side flash, definitely not a Mallard.

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