What To Look For

Differences in size, shape, plumage patterns and colors, wing beat,

flocking behavior, voice, and habitat--all help to distinguish one

species from another.

Flock maneuvers in the air are clues. Mallards, pintails, and wigeon

form loose groups; teal and shovelers flash by in small, compact

bunches; at a distance, canvasbacks shift from waving lines to temporary


Closer up, individual silhouettes are important. Variations of head

shapes and sizes, lengths of wings and tails, and fat bodies or slim can

be seen.

Within shotgun range, color areas can be important. Light conditions

might make them look different, but their size and location are positive

keys. The sound of their wings can help as much as their calls. Flying

goldeneyes make a whistling sound; wood ducks move with a swish;

canvasbacks make a steady rushing sound. Not all ducks quack; many

whistle, squeal, or grunt.

Although not a hard and fast rule, different species tend to use

different types of habitat. Puddle ducks like shallow marshes and creeks

while divers prefer larger, deeper, and more open waters.

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