The Gadwall’s subtle plumage is beautiful when seen closely, but from a distance the “black butt” of the male contrasting with its brown body plumage make it easy to identify. Gadwalls migrate at night, and typically make several stopovers to feed during their spring migration.
The large, nutritious eggs of ducks such as the Gadwall are a tempting meal for many predators, and it is estimated that about two-thirds of nests fail due to predation. If an adult duck is grabbed by a fox, it pretends to be dead.
Gadwalls have a high forehead and may show an almost fluffy appearance to the front of the head. The style on this male is a little more extreme than most. Photograph by Tom Grey.
Males in eclipse plumage look very similar to females. The long gray feather just above the white of the secondary indicates this is a non-breeding (eclipse) plumaged male. Photograph by Greg Lavaty.
Note the subtle patterns on the chest and sides. Photograph by Steve Wolfe.
The high forehead, orange and black bill and light neck contrasting with the darker body are good field marks for a female Gadwall. Photograph by Tom Grey.
Female Gadwalls have a grayish-brown head that is lighter than the lower part of the neck. The bill is orange with dark markings. Photograph by Greg Lavaty.
Courtship display. Photograph by Tom Grey.
Notice the slope of the bill and the head. In early photos of the males it appeared the front of the head went almost straight up from the base of the bill. In this photograph there is a more slopped appearance.
Also note the darker area on the crown, running from below the eye and curving to the back of the head. This darker area is more pronounced in some Gadwalls than others. Its shape is similar to the green areas on the head of the male American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. Photograph by Sam Crowe.
Sam is the founder of Birdzilla.com. 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.