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Six Odd Ducks (You Should Know)

Oddest ducks

Many people are familiar with a phrase that goes something like this:  “He’s an odd duck.”

It is a phrase used to denote a person that is strange,  unusual, or different.

Apparently the origin of the phrase is unknown.

An unusual person
Noun. odd duck (plural odd ducks) (idiomatic) An unusual person, especially an individual with an idiosyncratic personality or peculiar behavioral characteristics.

We suspect the phrase might have originated with the breeding habits of the Mallard.   Mallards will mate with almost any other species of duck, and in the process produce some very strange looking or “odd ducks.”  Mallards are so wide spread and their habits so consistent that strange “Mallards cross something” are quite common.

Here is an example of what might be the result of a Mallard cross something?

6. Mallard

Mallard cross with wigeon

Mallard mixes are not the only ducks to have an odd appearance.  For some reason the males of several species that spend a lot or most of their time in far northern Canada or off the coast of Alaska has developed very, yes, odd plumage.  Anyone seeing these species might well have uttered the “what an odd duck” phrase.

5. Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Ducks do nest in a small part of the mainland U.S. and winter along parts of both coasts. Prefers rocky cost lines and inland for nesting along swift, rocky streams.

Harlequin Duck male

Male Harlequin Duck.  Photograph by Glenn Bartley.

4. Common Eider

A group of ducks called eiders take the cake when it comes to odd-looking ducks, however.   Here are images of the males of the four eider species that are occasionally found in the U.S.  The Common and King Eider can sometimes be seen along the east coast but they nest in far northern Canada.  The Spectacled and Steller’s Eider nest along the Alaskan Coast.

Common Eider in flight
Common Eider.

3. King Eider

male king eider
King Eider.  Photograph © Alan Wilson

2. Spectacled Eider

spectacled eider male
Spectacled Eider. Photograph © Alan Wilson

1. Steller’s Eider

stellers eider male
Steller’s Eider. Photograph © Alan Wilson

Which do you think qualifies as the “oddest duck”?

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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