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Know Your Ducks: Minnesota Duck Species (Top 15)

Ducks in Minnesota

Ducks are fancy and fun birds to watch. Mallards aren’t the only species, either!

Lots of ducks live in Canada and the USA and most are pretty easy to see. One great place to watch ducks is Minnesota. The state’s hundreds of lakes, ponds, and marshes are ideal and important habitat for large numbers of waterfowl.

Have you watched ducks in Minnesota? We bet you’ve seen a lot, but how many were you able to identify?

This list of the most common ducks in Minnesota will help!

 

Most Common Ducks in Minnesota

Based on eBird data, our list shows the most common ducks in Minnesota.

We arranged these duck species from most common to least common. We also included information about the habitats they use and their behavior. To help with identification, we mention key field marks!

 

Mallard

Mallard pair

Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos
Length: 23 inches
Wingspan: 35 inches

Mallards are the most familiar duck species. For lots of folks, this is “the duck”. They have been domesticated for centuries and lots of them are fed at urban ponds and lakes.

However, make no doubt about it, Mallards are wild birds that also live in lots of wild and remote areas in most of North America. The males have a dark green head, narrow white collar, yellowish beak, and dark brown chest.

Female Mallards, though, can be trickier to identify. They are brown with some paler brown and dark markings, and have a gray-brown neck and head with a dark cap, and a dark line through their eyes.

In flight, we can also recognize female Mallards by their pale tail, and two white wing bards bordering a green-blue wing patch.

Mallards are incredibly common in Minnesota and can be found year-round.

Key identifications:

  • Big duck with a glossy green head and yellowish beak.
  • The female has a dark center mark on her orange beak.
  • Short, pale, or white tail.

 

Wood Duck

wood-duck - Bill Horn

Scientific name: Aix sponsa
Length: 18.5 inches
Wingspan: 30 inches

Wood Ducks are seriously ornamental birds. The males can seem so exotic, it might be hard to believe they are a wild, native species! However, Wood Ducks are indeed native and fairly common in many parts of southern Canada and the USA.

These cute, slender, long-tailed ducks prefer wooded swamps and other wetlands in forested habitats. The males have a rounded head with a dark green crest, black and white face, short red beak, and jade green back. They also have bright buff flanks and a chestnut chest and undertail.

Female Wood Ducks grayish-brown birds that aren’t nearly as fancy but can still be recognized by their blocky head, white spectacles, slender shape, and mostly dark wings.

Wood Ducks usually occur in pairs but can also form small flocks that forage for acorns, plant matter, and small creatures in and near water. We often hear these ducks give their odd, squealing whistle vocalization before we see them.

Key identifications:

  • Slender duck with a longish tail and a blocky head.
  • Ornate plumage a short, reddish beak.
  • Dark wings with a narrow white line on the base of the trailing edge.

 

Hooded Merganser

hooded merganser

Scientific name: Lophodytes cucullatus
Length: 18 inches
Wingspan: 24 inches

The Hooded Merganser is one of the prettiest little ducks in North America. Breeding males are handsome ducks with rounded black and white heads and black necks and backs. Their jet black upperparts combine nicely with two black marks on a white chest, and rich, pumpkin-colored flanks.

Females aren’t as colorful but are still pretty in their own way. These brown-gray birds have a slender, yellowish beak, and a deep, caramel-colored, rounded crest.

Both sexes also have a longish, somewhat pointed tail, and small white markings on the base of their slender dark wings.

Hooded Mergansers dive for crayfish, small fish, and other small creatures in wooded swamps and marshes. We don’t see them flock together as much as other ducks do, and they usually occur as pairs.

They mostly breed in forests of southern and western Canada, and the northeastern USA, and winter in wooded wetlands along the Pacific coast and in the eastern USA.

Key identifications:

  • Small duck with a small, slender beak.
  • Blocky or rounded head.
  • White belly and a bit of white on the base of narrow wings.

 

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Scientific name: Spatula discors
Length: 15.5 inches
Wingspan: 23 inches

Blue-winged Teals are small ducks with brownish plumage and fairly big, dark beaks. In a lot of places, these little ducks are the commonest waterfowl species. They are also highly migratory and thousands can spend the winter as far south as Panama and northern Colombia!

Male Blue-winged Teals have dark gray heads and a bold white, crescent-shaped patch on their face. They also have a small white patch near their dark tail and a black undertail. Females are duller brown with buff and dark mottling to help hide them during the nesting season.

In flight, just like their name says, both sexes reveal big blue patches on their wings. Blue-winged Teals usually occur in flocks, and in some places, they can number in the thousands!

They like to dabble for plants and small creatures in rice fields, marshes, and other shallow water wetlands. We can see them in most of Canada and the USA.

Key identifications:

  • Small duck with a dark beak and white crescent mark on its face.
  • Female has a dark line through her dark eyes.
  • Blue or blue-gray shoulders on its wings.

 

Ring-necked Duck

Male Ring-necked Duck

Scientific name: Aythya collaris
Length: 17 inches
Wingspan: 25 inches

Ring-necked Ducks are one of those birds that don’t have the best of names. While males do have a brown ring on their necks, it blends in with their black neck and can be really hard to see.

Ring-necked Ducks should really be called, “Ring-billed Ducks”! The males are best recognized by the white ring near the black tip of their dark gray beak, and their combination of a black back, head, neck, and chest. They also have gray sides and a white mark near their black chest.

Female Ring-necked Ducks are plain, brownish birds with pale bellies and narrow white spectacles on a grayish face. They also show a bit of white on their face, near the base of their bill.

Ring-necked Ducks dabble and make shallow dives for a variety of food items. They like to eat plant matter, insects, and other small aquatic creatures. We find them in a variety of shallow wetlands in much of North America.

Key identifications:

  • Male has black back, head, and chest.
  • Gray sides with white near the black chest.
  • Female has narrow white spectacles on gray face.

 

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye pair

Scientific name: Bucephala clangula
Length: 18.5 inches
Wingspan: 26 inches

Common Goldeneyes are small ducks with a stout, triangular beak. Males are mostly white with some black markings and have green iridescence on their black heads. They also have a round white patch on their face.

Female Common Goldeneyes have gray bodies with a white belly, a pale collar, and a dark, gray-brown head. They also usually have a pale tip on their beaks.

Both sexes of this pretty little duck have pale eyes, and, in flight, show big white patches on the base of their wings.

Common Goldeneyes nest in tree cavities near lakes and other wetlands in forest from Alaska and Canada to parts of the northern USA.

After breeding, they form flocks that migrate to coastal areas, lakes, and other bodies of water in most of the USA.

These cute ducks dive underwater to forage for small mollusks and other aquatic creatures.

Key identifications:

  • Small duck with a fairly large, stout blackish beak, and pale eyes.
  • Male is black and white with a round white mark on his green-black face.
  • Female has mostly gray body with a dark brown head.

 

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Scientific name: Mergus merganser
Length: 25 inches
Wingspan: 34 inches

Common Mergansers are big and slender ducks with pointed red beaks. Based on their size, the English name of “Goosander” for this bird seems fitting!

Breeding males are white with a dark green head and some black on their back and wings.

Female and nonbreeding male Common Mergansers are gray with a brown head, small white throat, and white on their belly. When flying, this species shows a lot of white on the base of their wings.

They have fast, direct flight and, after the breeding season, usually occur in small flocks.

These highly aquatic ducks catch fish and crustaceans after pursuing them underwater. They nest on cold lakes and rivers in Alaska, Canada, and in the northern and western USA. For the winter, Common Mergansers migrate to reservoirs and big lakes in much of the nation.

However, they tend to be rare in the southeastern part of the country.

Key identifications:

  • Red, pointed beak.
  • Distinct brown head with a white throat.
  • Males have all white underparts.

 

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Scientific name: Bucephala albeola
Length: 13.5 inches
Wingspan: 21 inches

Buffleheads are small, cute ducks with rounded heads and stout little beaks. Males are bold, black and white birds with a big white patch on their head. In good light, their head also has green and purple iridescence.

Female Buffleheads are more gray-brown with a white belly, and have a smaller white head patch.

During their fast flight, Buffleheads show a white patch in their wings although the female’s white patch is smaller. These ducks breed on northern, forested lakes in Alaska, Canada, and parts of the northwestern USA.

Like some other small ducks, they need tree cavities for nesting and often use holes made by Northern Flickers.

Buffleheads usually travel through Minnesota, their populations are highest in spring and fall, but if you’re lucky, you can see them year-round too!

Key identifications:

  • Small chunky duck with stout gray beak.
  • Rounded head with a bold white patch.
  • Mostly black and white or grayish with a white belly and small white wing patch.

 

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Scientific name: Spatula clypeata
Length: 19 inches
Wingspan: 30 inches

Northern Shovelers are a distinctive duck species with a big, prominent beak. Males have striking plumage with a dark green head, and white and chestnut underparts. They are also white and gray on their back, have orange legs, and show blue shoulders in flight.

Female Northern Shovelers are tawny-brown ducks with lots of buff markings, and an orange and gray beak. Both sexes also have a pale tail.

These pretty ducks like to float in marshes and other shallow wetland habitats. They often form flocks and we can see them foraging with Blue-winged Teals and other dabbling ducks. Like many other duck species, Northern Shovelers feed on a combination of plant matter and small aquatic creatures.

This species breeds in shallow wetlands in Alaska, western and central Canada, and in parts of the northern and western USA. They migrate to coastal marshes and much of the southern USA for the winter.

Key identifications:

  • Over-sized, flat beak.
  • Male has a white breast, red-brown sides and belly, and dark green head.
  • Female has a pale tail and orange and gray beak.

 

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Scientific name: Aythya affinis
Length: 16.5 inches
Wingspan: 25 inches

Lesser Scaups are smallish or medium-sized diving ducks with a blue-gray beak. Males have a black head with dark green highlights, black chest, and black rear end, pale gray back, and white sides and belly.

Female Lesser Scaups are dark brown with a pale belly, and a white mark on their face. Both sexes have the back part of the head more pointed than the front part. That field mark might not sound like much but it’s one of the best ways to tell them from the extremely similar Greater Scaup!

Lesser Scaups dive to forage in lakes, reservoirs, and coastal bays for mollusks, crustaceans, and other aquatic creatures. In migration and winter, they often occur in flocks that can number in the hundreds!

These smart looking ducks breed on remote lakes and marshes in Alaska, Canada, and in mountains of the western USA. They winter in many parts of the USA south to northern South America.

Key identifications:

  • Bluish beak.
  • Slightly peaked on the back part of its head.
  • Male has black chest, gray body, and dark head, female has a white mark on the front of her face.

 

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Scientific name: Anas crecca
Length: 14 inches
Wingspan: 23 inches

Green-winged Teals are small waterfowl with a smallish, dark beak, and a dark green patch at the base of each wing. Males of these cute little ducks are mostly gray and have a chestnut head with a dark green patch, speckled, buff chest, and narrow white bar near their chest.

Females are mostly mottled brown with a dark line through each eye. Both sexes have a buff mark on the edge of their tail, and show a white belly in flight. Green-winged Teal like to forage for plants and small creatures in the shallow water of marshes and other wetland habitats.

They breed in Alaska, Canada, and the northern USA, and winter in a variety of wetland habitats in some parts of southern Canada, and most of the USA.

Although this small duck species can form flocks, we often see them in pairs or only in small groups. They also migrate north later than other duck species.

Key identifications:

  • Very small duck.
  • Buffy mark along the edge of each side of its tail.
  • Small dark beak and dark green patch edged with buff on its wings.

 

Gadwall

Gadwall pair

Scientific name: Mareca strepera
Length: 20 inches
Wingspan: 33 inches

Gadwalls are medium-sized ducks with a small white patch on the base of each wing. Males are gray ducks with a paler grayish head, some brown feathers on their wings, and a black rump, tail, and undertail.

Female Gadwalls look a lot like female Mallards and have gray-brown plumage with buff markings, and a paler grayish head. Like hen Mallards, they also have an orange and black beak but it is mostly gray on the upper part of the bill.

In flight, both sexes show white bellies, the small white mark on their wing, and much white on their underwings.

Gadwalls forage for seeds and other plant matter in and near shallow water.

These ducks breed in shallow wetlands in central and western Canada, and in various parts of the northern and western USA. They migrate through much of the USA and winter in coastal areas from Alaska to California, and in many western and southern states.

Key identifications:

  • Male is mostly gray with black rear end.
  • Female has grayish head and gray and orange beak.
  • Small white patch on base of wing.

 

Redhead

Redhead

Scientific name: Aythya americana
Length: 19 inches
Wingspan: 29 inches

Redheads are medium-sized ducks that dive in lakes, reservoirs, and bays to catch mollusks and other aquatic animals. Males are eye-catching birds with a bright chestnut head, yellow eyes, pale blue-gray beak with a black tip, black chest and undertail, and gray body.

Females are gray-brown birds that look very different from their male counterparts. Hen Redheads are gray-brown with a paler belly, dark gray beak with a black tip, and plain buffy face.

In flight, both sexes show gray upperwings and much white on their underwings.

Redheads breed in shallow marshes and lakes in Alaska, and central and western North America. In winter, we see these handsome birds on bigger bodies of water in much of the southern USA as well as many coastal waters and parts of the Great Lakes.

After breeding, they can occur in large flocks, especially in the coastal lagoons of South Texas. In that area, wintering Redheads can number in the thousands!

Key identifications:

  • Blue-gray beak with a black tip.
  • Male has dark gray body, black chest, and bright red-brown head.
  • Female mostly tawny-brown with a buff throat.

 

Ruddy Duck

Stiff-Tailed Ducks

Scientific name: Oxyura jamaicensis
Length: 15 inches
Wingspan: 18.5 inches

Ruddy Ducks are small diving ducks with a unique, big-headed look, and a stiff tail that they often hold upright. Breeding males are a beautiful chestnut bird with a black cap, and a white throat and cheeks. They also have a big and pretty, blue beak that contrasts with the other colors on their head.

Female Ruddy Ducks are grayish birds with darker, more uniform upperparts, and a thick black line on their pale face. They have a duller, darker, more grayish beak than the male. In flight, Ruddy Ducks have mostly dark, rather short and narrow wings.

Ruddy Ducks dive underwater to forage for small aquatic creatures.

This small duck species breeds in shallow marshes and lakes in many parts of central and western North America. They migrate to eastern Canada and the USA and winter on lakes, in coastal waters, and other wetlands in the western and southern USA.

Key identifications:

  • Small duck with big bluish beak and a dark cap.
  • White cheeks or a dark line on pale cheeks.
  • Longish, stiff tail often held upright.

 

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

Scientific name: Mareca americana
Length: 20 inches
Wingspan: 32 inches

American Wigeons are medium-sized ducks with a smallish gray beak. Males are gray with a white crown, some dark green near their eyes, and peach-brown colors on their chest and sides.

They also have a black undertail and show white shoulders in flights. Females look like males but lack white and green on their heads and are a bit duller in general. Both sexes have pointed tails and a white belly especially visible in flight.

American Wigeons like to graze grass and eat grain while walking at the edge of wetlands and in wet fields. They can also pick plant matter and small creatures from the surface of the water and even steal food from other ducks!

This waterfowl species breeds in cold, shallow marshes in Alaska, Canada, and parts of the northern USA. They migrate through much of the USA and winter in coastal waters, and on lakes and other wetlands in southern states.

Key identifications:

  • Rather small pale gray beak.
  • Peach or gray-orange chest and flanks.
  • Male has a white crown and white shoulders, female has grayish head with a dark area around her eyes.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many duck species are there in MN?

35 duck species have been seen in MN. Many of those are common species but some, like the Tufted Duck, are rare vagrants.

Do ducks stay in Minnesota in the winter?

Yes, some ducks stay in Minnesota during the winter. However, most species leave when the water freezes over.

Do Minnesota ducks migrate?

Yes, most Minnesota ducks migrate. When open water freezes, ducks migrate to other areas.

Do Mallards stay in MN in winter?

Most Mallards do not stay in MN in winter. However, some stay in areas with open water in the southern part of the state.

What are the rarest ducks in MN?

The rarest ducks in MN are the Garganey, Tufted Duck, Common Eider, and Smew. All of these species are rare vagrants to the state.

 

Read more: Birds in Minnesota | Hawks in Minnesota | Ducks in Minnesota

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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Melyna Lynch

Monday 18th of March 2024

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