Types Of Ducks In Texas

Ducks In Texas

Duck Species in Texas

In this article, we want to turn our attention to the Waterfowl that inhabit the beautiful state of Texas. Having, in the preceding articles of this series examined many aspects of the diverse ecosystem of the state, it would not be fair if we did not also highlight the waterfowl, particularly the types of ducks in Texas.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck; Photo by Melissa Rousset Lewis

As you probably already know by now, the state of Texas is unique in its geographical position, blessed in its topography, and favored with a climate that embraces all types of life forms, both plants, and animals. Texas is like a bridge between the North and South American continents and offers a hint of almost tropical climate in a geographically North American environment.  This makes Texas an important stopover point for many types of migrating animals both in the water, in the air, and on land. One of those animals who call Texas home or country home is the waterfowl. Waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and swans, are set apart from other birds by their special aquatic habitat needs.

An important report:  the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, waterfowl are some of North America’s most important, highly valued and observed natural resources.

Texas Ducks

In Texas, there are three main categories of waterfowl, and they are diving ducks, dabbling ducks, and then geese. In general, diving ducks (types of ducks that have difficulty walking on land but dive efficiently underwater to feed) prefer perennial bodies of water, like lakes, stock tanks, backwater river areas, open bays and marshes that generally have a constant year-round supply of water.

In contrast, dabbling ducks (that is those ducks that walk easily on land and feed from the water’s surface, or in depths of up to  10 inches) generally prefer shallower and more seasonal water supplies. That is basically where we get the difference and the detail upon which we base our categorization of the types of ducks in Texas. Let’s peruse the types of ducks in Texas below:

Dabbling Ducks in Texas

Dabbling ducks feed on water plants and animals (invertebrates) that grow and live on the surface of the water. They do this by skimming or just below the surface by dipping their upper body into the water. These ducks have the ability to walk quite well on land and usually emerge from the water by springing into the air.

Dabbling ducks, highly favor as their habitat  flooded wetlands, both natural and agricultural, where they are in constant search of agricultural and natural seeds, native plant parts, and aquatic animals (invertebrates.) Examples of agricultural seeds that dabbling ducks like include rice, soybean, corn and so on. Feeding on several different food sources allows dabbling ducks to obtain all the necessary nutrients, and survive even when conditions are tough. However, some dabblers like the gadwall and also American wigeon feed primarily on aquatic vegetation alone.

American Wigeon

The American wigeon (Mareca americana), is a type of duck also called a baldpate. This is a species of dabbling duck which is found in North America.  It is the New World counterpart of the Eurasian wigeon. Breeding males have a brownish-gray head, and they also have a wide green stripe behind the eye. They are also characterized by a white cap.  American Wigeons are medium-sized birds with compact bodies. They have short bills and a round head.

American Wigeon Texas
texas waterfowl identification

This is a species of dabbling duck that is most easily recognized for its predominant feature: its shining blue wings.


Gadwalls are medium-sized ducks that can be recognized by their dull brown coloration. Male gadwalls are gray-brown with a white belly and generally have a black rump. In-flight, a white speculum and also chestnut and black portions are displayed on the wing coverts.  They are characterized by bills that are slate-gray, and also by legs and feet that are yellow.

Texas Gadwall

Green-winged Teal

This is a very similar species to the Blue-winged teal. It too is a kind of dabbling duck that can most easily be recognized by its most defining feature- its green shiny wings.

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal; photo by Kaustubh Deshpande


Mallards are probably the most popular and most beautiful members of the duck family. Their bills are yellow, their heads are green, while their caps are black. They generally have white neckties on display, and bellies that are dark brown. Their wings are usually greyish-white.

Texas Mallard Ducks

Mottled Duck

The mottled duck which some people also call the mottled mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck. It closely resembles in appearance the female mallard and the American black duck. This resemblance is not misplaced because it is closely related to those species. Mottled ducks generally have yellow bills, and heads that are greyish-white. Overall, they have bodies that are brown and speckled with white. When in flight they display a luminescent green patch on their wings.

Mottled Duck
Mottled Duck; Photo by Paul Sellin

Northern Pintail

Northern pintails are beautiful birds, they usually have bills that are black or greyish in color, throats, and bellies that are snow-white, wings that are light grey, and tails that are black. As the name implies they also usually have tails that grow narrower as your gaze continues outward. The tail looks like a pin.

Northern Pintail

Northern Shoveler

The northern shoveler is a kind of duck that has a black bill, as well as a dark green head. The northern shoveler also has a throat and belly that is whitish and speckled with brown. The brown coloration progresses as you look down to the underbelly and wings of the bird.

Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler

Wood Duck

Wood ducks are another wonderfully beautiful species of duck. Their bills are yellow but have a black tip.heir heads are a combination of green, white, and brown. Their eyes are golden- brown. Their wings are greenish in color and their throats and wingtips are brown, while their underbellies are white.

Other types of ducks in Texas are

Texas Diving Ducks

The ducks described below are diving ducks. They feed on aquatic plants and invertebrates that live and grow below the surface of the water. They do so by diving into the water and swimming towards the bottom. These ducks are not particularly good at walking on land. They generally rise from the water by running and gradually becoming airborne.

Diving ducks, or divers, prefer to eat more aquatic animals (invertebrates), as well as plant seeds, and tubers, instead of agricultural seeds. That means that taming them for agricultural purposes may pose greater difficulties than other types of ducks.  Some diving ducks like golden-eyes, ruddy ducks or mergansers prefer to eat more aquatic animal matter instead of plants.


The bufflehead is a small sea duck of the genus Bucephala, which is a group of ducks also known as ‘the goldeneyes.’ This species is small and has a maximum length of 32 – 40 cm, and a maximum recorded weight of 400 grams. The Bufflehead duck is the smallest diving or sea duck in North America. You can recognize it by a brown bill, golden eyes which are surrounded by green plumage, deep brown coloration on its back, and an underside, as well as the back of the head that is white.

Bufflehead ; Photo by Troy Williams


The canvasback is a species of diving duck. In contrast to the species highlighted above, this one is the largest found in North America. They can be found in deeper waters of rivers and even the open sea where they find natural bays that are calm enough to dive in. You can recognize them by a black bill, brown eyes, and a brown coloration on the head and breast. They have whitish coloration on their back and wings.

Canvasback ; Photo by Janet Rathjen

Common Merganser

The common merganser which is sometimes also called the goosander is a large duck of rivers and lakes in forested areas of Europe. It is also found in Texas, just as in northern and central Asia. This species is important to the ecosystem as it eats fish. They are big birds, and can grow up to 53 – 69 cm in length, and reach a  mass of 1.5 kg. You can recognize them with a big reddish-brown bill, a green head, white breasts and wings, and a black coloration on their backs. When they fly they show a black side to their wings.

Common Merganser
Common Merganser – Photo by Darlene Moore

Hooded Merganser

The hooded merganser is a species of small duck. It belongs to the genus Lophodytes. The genus name derives from the Greek language: lophos meaning ‘crest’, and dutes meaning diver. This is actually a medium-sized bird; with a weight of  540 – 680 grams, and a Length of 40 – 49 cm, it is as big as a chicken. You can recognize this bird by the black hood it carries around on its head.

Hooded Merganser
Hooded Merganser ; Photo by Angela Orlando


The redhead is a medium-sized diving duck that you can find in any of the estuarine waters of Texas.  The redhead is 37 cm long with an 84 cm wingspan. You can recognize this bird by greyish bill, grey wings, dark grey breasts, and tail region, and most conspicuously: its red-colored head.

Redhead – Photo by Betsy Baker

Ring-Necked Duck

The ring-necked duck is a diving duck from North America that you can commonly find in freshwater ponds and lakes. This is a big bird: it weighs around 700 grams, reaches a Length of  39 – 46 cm. You can recognize this bird with a blackish coloration in has. It has a long neck, and the neck seems to have a ring or band on it.

Ruddy Duck

The ruddy duck is a native species of duck to Texas and North America. It has been cataloged as one of the stiff-tailed ducks. This species is notable for its rare kind of appearance. You can recognize it by its light blue colored bill, white and black colored head, brown and cinnamon-colored body, and a black tail that looks like spikes.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck ; Photo by Peter Assman

Lesser Scaup

The lesser scaup is a medium-sized North American diving duck that migrates south as far as Central America in the winter season. It is commonly the little bluebill or broadbill, and this name is because of its distinctive blue bill. This species is medium-sized, it reaches a mass of 820 grams, and a Length of 39 – 45 cm. You can recognize it by: a blue bill, and a brown overall coloration.

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup -Photo by Sue Orwig

What you should know about Duck Habitats

Most ducks like the American wigeon and canvasback are migratory, and in Texas, wintering habitat for migrating water birds is of immense importance for not only the American ecosystem but for the balance of waterfowl life globally. Managing this ecosystem is therefore vital. More waterfowl are migratory than not, and so they instinctively must spend their winters in the warmer south and then returning to the cooler climate of the north for breeding.

Mottled ducks are the only non-migratory dabbling ducks that are found in the continental United States They are therefore year-round residents of the state of Texas.  Although duck habitat varies with the individual species, it typically consists of an area with several aquatic areas, such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. Most ducks prefer inland waters and will stick close to the shore.

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