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Odd Duck Meaning – 6 Examples From The Wild

Oddest ducks

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

But what’s the odd duck meaning?

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

Apparently, the origin of the phrase is unknown.

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.


Odd Ducks You Can See In The Wild

6. Mallard

Mallard cross with wigeon

Mallards are the most familiar duck species, but they can also look odd! Male Mallards, in particular, can have especially bizarre plumage. As with other ducks, Mallards molt (change their feathers) in June and September.

Although female Mallards look the same all year long, male Mallards molt into non-breeding plumage that resembles the females. They lose their shiny green head and change the colors of their pale gray and buff bodies.

During the molting process, some birds can show some bits of pale plumage on their body, and others can have bits of dull green on their head. Those different plumages can really throw birders for a loop!

Some Mallards have odd patches of white on their breast or head. Such birds are descendants of Mallards that bred with domestic farm ducks.

Odd Mallards can show up in many places, but especially on urban lakes with normally plumaged Mallards.


5. Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Duck male

Harlequin Ducks are one of the most interesting-looking ducks in North America! Unlike other waterfowl, these unique birds breed next to cold, rushing rivers and streams. They are adapted to rapid water with lots of boulders that would either delight or terrify kayakers.

These ducks forage in such risky situations to feed on mollusks and other aquatic creatures but it doesn’t come without a price. Apparently, Harlequin Ducks occasionally break bones after being smashed into rocks!

However, they may heal fast because such injuries don’t seem to affect them much.

Harlequin Ducks also have one of the oddest plumages of any duck species. Males are striking birds with odd white markings on slate gray plumage with chestnut highlights. Females are also unique ducks with a few white marks on dark brown plumage.

We find small flocks of Harlequin Ducks on clean, rushing rivers and rough coastal waters from Alaska to California, and from eastern Canada to New Jersey.


4. Common Eider

Common Eider in flight

The Common Eider has such striking plumage, that you might wonder if it’s actually a duck! Although this and other eider species have a distinctive look, they are indeed members of the Anatidae.

Common Eiders have a long, sloped beak that gives them a strange appearance. However, that strange beak is no mistake. Their bill is highly adapted for snatching mollusks and other aquatic animals.

Although female Common Eiders typically have mottled brown plumage, breeding males are big, striking black and white birds with a pea-green patch on their nape. Young males also have odd, dark brown plumage with white on their chest and back.

Common Eiders breed in coastal habitats, especially tundra, in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Eurasia. In winter, large flocks frequent shallow coastal waters in southern Alaska and eastern Canada. We can also see wintering birds as far south as New Jersey, or even as coastal waters of the Carolinas.


3. King Eider

male king eider

The Common Eider definitely has a distinctive head but the King Eider takes the odd duck look one step further! Female King Eiders have slightly rounded heads but are otherwise “normal” looking ducks with typical mottled brown, hen duck plumage.

Their male counterparts, though, have a bizarre, square-shaped head with a bright orange-red beak. The pale gray head with a big orange, rounded front, and greenish coloration below “sunken eyes” could easily be inspiration for modern art.

Male King Eiders have that outrageous look to attract females as well to possibly protect their eyes while foraging. That odd appearance is accentuated by an ivory-colored chest and bold, black and white plumage.

King Eiders are also odd ducks because they breed further north than most birds. These extremely hardy ducks nest in Arctic coastal areas in far northern Alaska and Canada. In winter, flocks mostly occur in icy coastal waters of southern Alaska and eastern Canada.


2. Spectacled Eider

spectacled eider male


Spectacled Eiders are big sea ducks with interesting-looking fancy heads. They also have a strange, sloped beak with the upper half of it seemingly covered in feathers!

Female Spectacled Eiders have typical mottled brown plumage like so many other hen ducks. However, they also have a big, pale, round patch around each eye.

In common with odd ducks in general, male Spectacled Eiders look odder than their female counterparts. They have bold black and white plumage with a big, round white patch around each eye. Males of these special ducks also have strange olive or sea-green colors on their heads that can resemble dried seaweed!

Spectacled Eiders aren’t the easiest ducks to see. They only breed in wetlands in coastal northern and western Alaska, and in northern Siberia. In winter, these ducks continue to be odd by migrating to the middle of the Bering Sea. The entire population of 370,000 individuals winter there in huge flocks!


1. Steller’s Eider

stellers eider male

The Steller’s Eider is an odd-looking sea duck with a fairly heavy beak. Females look like plain, dark brown ducks but male Steller’s Eiders have striking, eye-catching plumage.

They have a white head with black around each eye that gives them an odd, big-eyed appearance. These striking ducks also have a black throat and collar, a small green spot on the back of their head, and dark peach underparts with a random black spot on each side of their chest.

The rest of their plumage is black and white, and they have a pointed black tail.

Steller’s Eiders are a local Arctic species that breeds in coastal tundra and wetlands of northern Alaska and northern Siberia. Flocks winter in coastal waters of the Aleutians, parts of northeastern Asia, and a few places in northwestern Europe.

One of the other odd things about this eider species is that its closest relative is the extinct Labrador Duck.


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

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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