Updated at: 10-10-2023 - By: petstutorial

Dabbling ducks are a fascinating group of waterfowl known for their distinctive feeding behavior, often referred to as “dabbling” or “tipping up”.

These ducks feed in the water by tipping forward and grazing on underwater plants, rarely diving. They are characterized by their ability to submerge their heads while leaving their tails pointing up as they graze on various greens and invertebrates in the shallows.

As winter ends and the snow melts, dabbling ducks also feed on seeds and leftover waste grain found in farm fields. They are commonly found in wetlands where natural foods are abundant.

In this article, we will explore 14 different types of dabbling ducks, their unique characteristics, and their habitats. Understanding these diverse species can help us appreciate the beauty and importance of these waterfowl in our ecosystems.


14 Types Of Dabbling Ducks


The Mallard, also known as the wild duck, is a dabbling duck that breeds throughout the temperate and subtropical Americas, Eurasia, and North Africa. It has been introduced to various countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Falkland Islands, and South Africa. This duck belongs to the subfamily Anatinae of the waterfowl family Anatidae.

Physical Characteristics:
– Males have green heads, while females (hens or ducks) have mainly brown-speckled plumage.
– Both sexes have an area of white-bordered black or iridescent purple or blue feathers called a speculum on their wings, with males tending to have blue speculum feathers.
– The mallard is 50–65 cm (20–26 in) long, with the body making up around two-thirds of the length.
– The wingspan is 81–98 cm (32–39 in), and the bill is 4.4 to 6.1 cm (1.7 to 2.4 in) long.
– It is often slightly heavier than most other dabbling ducks, weighing 0.7–1.6 kg (1.5–3.5 lb).

Feeding Behavior:
– Mallards are part of the group known as dabbling ducks, foraging by tipping upside-down in the water to uproot and eat aquatic plants, insect larvae, and freshwater shrimp.
– They also feed on seeds and leftover waste grain found in farm fields as winter ends and the snow melts.

– Mallards are commonly found in wetlands where natural foods are abundant.
– They can be seen in small ponds, rivers, and other shallow waterways, or near the shallow, slower edges of larger waterways and swamps.

– The mallard is the most abundant duck species in North America and is considered a medium to large dabbling duck.

Northern Pintail


The Northern Pintail, also known as the pintail or Anas acuta, is a duck species with a wide geographic distribution, breeding in the northern areas of Europe, across the Palearctic, and North America. It is a migratory bird, wintering south of its breeding range to the equator. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Northern Pintail:

Physical Characteristics:
– The Northern Pintail is an elegant, long-necked duck with a slender profile.
– The tail is long and pointed, more prominent in breeding males than in females and nonbreeding males.
– The male has a chocolate-brown head, a white breast with a white stripe extending up the side of the neck, and gray upperparts and sides.
– Elongated gray feathers with black central stripes are draped across the back from the shoulder area.
– The female has a dark-brown upper body, a buff or gray head and lower body, and a dull brown or bronze speculum.

Feeding Behavior:
– Northern Pintails feed by dabbling for plant food and add small invertebrates to their diet during the nesting season.
– They forage in groups along the shallower edges of lakes and ponds, often venturing out on the water with other duck species and American Coots.

– This duck is found in open wetlands and lakes, nesting on the ground, often some distance from water.
– During the winter, they can be seen in wetlands, lakes, bays, and even waddling through agricultural fields, eating grains.

– The Northern Pintail’s population is affected by predators, parasites, avian diseases, and human activities such as agriculture, hunting, and fishing.
– While still common, their populations are declining.



The Gadwall, also known as Anas strepera, is a common and widespread dabbling duck in the family Anatidae. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Gadwall:

Physical Characteristics:
– The Gadwall is 47–58 cm (19–23 in) long with a 78–85 cm (31–33 in) wingspan.
– The male is slightly larger than the female, weighing on average 990 g (35 oz) against her 850 g (30 oz).
– In breeding plumage, the male has a patterned gray body, a black rear end, light chestnut wings, and a brilliant white speculum.
– In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the male looks more like the female, but retains the male wing pattern, and is usually grayish above with less orange on the bill.
– The female has a mottled brown appearance, a yellowish bill with dark spots, and a smaller white speculum.

Feeding Behavior:
– Gadwalls feed on aquatic vegetation, often foraging far from the shoreline in deeper water than most other dabbling ducks.
– They up-end to feed on leafy portions of pondweed, naiad, wigeon grass, water milfoil, and algae, as well as the seeds of pondweed, smartweed, bulrush, and spike rush.
– They also feed on aquatic invertebrates, such as crustaceans and midges.

– The Gadwall is a bird of open wetlands, such as prairie or steppe lakes, wet grassland, or marshes with dense fringing vegetation.
– In summer, they are mainly found around fresh or alkaline lakes in prairie regions or western intermountain areas.
– During the winter, they are distributed throughout the southern two-thirds of the United States, with the greatest concentrations found in the Central and Mississippi flyways.

– Gadwalls are monogamous and may start breeding after their first year.
– Pair formation begins during fall migration or on breeding grounds, and males may still be in eclipse plumage during this time.
– They nest on the ground, often some distance from water.

– Currently, the Gadwall is listed as least concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Green-Winged Teal


The Green-winged Teal, also known as Anas carolinensis, is a common and widespread dabbling duck in North America. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Green-winged Teal:

Physical Characteristics:
– The Green-winged Teal is the smallest dabbling duck in North America, with a petite, thin bill.
– The male has a brown head with a wide green swatch behind the eye, a creamy speckled breast, and a mostly gray body.
– The female is brown, darker overall than the male, and has a small and compact silhouette, sitting high in the water with a fairly small bill.

Feeding Behavior:
– Green-winged Teals have closely spaced, comblike projections called lamellae around the inner edge of the bill, which they use to filter tiny invertebrates from the water, allowing them to capture smaller food items than other dabbling ducks.
– Their diet is quite variable with the season and location, feeding especially on seeds of grasses, sedges, pondweeds, and many others. They also take aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, and rarely earthworms and fish eggs.

– Green-winged Teals can be found in marshes, rivers, and bays, with open wetlands being their preferred habitat.
– In summer, they are mainly found in the northern areas of North America, except on the Aleutian Islands, where a non-migratory race of Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca nimia, is found.
– During migration, they can be seen in shallow wetlands, sometimes foraging in little more than puddles in flooded agricultural fields.

– Green-winged Teals are early migrants, often flying in large flocks and wheeling and turning together low over water.
– Males migrate first, followed by the females, with mated pairs often traveling north together during spring migration.

– The Green-winged Teal is considered very common and widespread, with no recognized subspecies.

Wood Duck

The Wood Duck, also known as Aix sponsa or Carolina Duck, is a species of perching duck found in North America. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Wood Duck:

Physical Characteristics:
– The male Wood Duck is one of the most colorful North American waterfowls, with a multicolored plumage that includes iridescent greens, blues, and browns.
– The female Wood Duck has a more subtle appearance, with a gray-brown body and a white teardrop-shaped eye patch.
– Wood Ducks are 19-21 inches in length, with a wingspan of 26-29 inches.
– They have a long tail, a small bill, and a distinctive profile when in flight, thanks to their long tail and compact body.

Feeding Behavior:
– Wood Ducks are dabbling ducks, meaning they feed by tipping their heads underwater and grazing on aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates.
– They are often found in wetlands and flooded woods, where they can forage for food in shallow water.

– Wood Ducks prefer wooded wetlands, such as swamps, marshes, and beaver ponds, where they can find suitable nesting sites and ample food sources.
– They are also known to nest in artificial structures, such as nest boxes, which have been installed in many areas to help support their populations.

– Wood Ducks have a unique breeding behavior, with females often laying their eggs in the nests of other Wood Ducks, a behavior known as “brood parasitism”.
– In southern areas, it is common for Wood Ducks to produce two broods in one breeding season.

– The Wood Duck is considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, with stable populations throughout its range.

Blue-Winged Teal

The Blue-winged Teal, also known as Spatula discors, is a small and distinctive dabbling duck found in North America. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Blue-winged Teal:

Physical Characteristics:
– The Blue-winged Teal is the second smallest duck in North America, with a length of 14-16 inches and a wingspan of 23 inches.
– The adult male has a grayish-blue head with a white facial crescent, a light brown body with a white patch near the rear, and a black tail.
– The adult female is mottled brown, with a whitish area at the base of the bill.
– Both sexes have sky-blue wing coverts, a green speculum, and yellow legs.

Feeding Behavior:
– Blue-winged Teals are dabbling ducks, feeding by tipping their heads underwater and grazing on aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates.
– They have a large bill, which helps them forage for food in shallow water.

– During the summer months, Blue-winged Teals can be found throughout North America, from southeastern Alaska to the Atlantic coast, and as far south as the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.
– In the winter months, they migrate to the southern parts of the U.S. and into Central and South America.
– Blue-winged Teals are social birds, except during the breeding season when males and females move off into nesting areas.

Conservation Status:
– Blue-winged Teals, although not rare, are protected under the Migratory Bird Act.
– They have been affected by pesticides, such as dieldrin, and by eating or being trapped in plastic trash.
– Hunting is regulated for Blue-winged Teals, and they can also face threats from collisions with cars and entanglement in power lines, fences, and other human structures.

American Wigeon

The American Wigeon, also known as the baldpate, is a species of dabbling duck found in North America. Here are some key features and characteristics of the American Wigeon:

Physical Characteristics:
– The American Wigeon is a medium-sized dabbling duck, with a distinctive white patch on the male’s head.
– The male has a grayish-brown body, a white belly, and a green patch on the head.
– The female has a mottled brown body, a grayish-brown head, and a white patch behind the eye.
– Both sexes have a blue-gray bill with a black tip.

Feeding Behavior:
– American Wigeons are dabbling ducks, feeding by tipping their heads underwater and grazing on aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates.
– They have a broad, flat bill, which helps them forage for food in shallow water.

– American Wigeons can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, ponds, and lakes.
– During the winter months, they can be found in coastal areas, estuaries, and other wetlands throughout the southern United States and Mexico.

– American Wigeons breed in the northern parts of North America, from Alaska to the Great Lakes region.
– They typically nest on the ground, often near water, and the female incubates the eggs for around 25 days.

– The American Wigeon is considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, with stable populations throughout its range.

American Black Duck

The American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) is a large dabbling duck in the family Anatidae. It is the heaviest species in the genus Anas, weighing 720–1,640 g (1.59–3.62 lb) on average and measuring 54–59 cm (21–23 in) in length with an 88–95 cm (35–37 in) wingspan. It somewhat resembles the female and eclipse male mallard in coloration, but has a darker plumage.

The American Black Duck is endemic to eastern North America, with its range extending from northeastern Saskatchewan to Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, and from northern Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Connecticut, Vermont, South Dakota, central West Virginia, Maine, and the Atlantic coast to North Carolina in the United States.

It is a habitat generalist, associated with tidal marshes and present throughout the year in salt marshes from the Gulf of Maine to coastal Virginia. It usually prefers freshwater and coastal wetlands.

The American Black Duck is a considered a “dabbling” duck species due to its habit of feeding at or just below the water’s surface, where it consumes aquatic plants and small invertebrates. They do more than dabble in the water, though.

Black Ducks are excellent swimmers and will dive if necessary to escape from predators. On land, the ducks also forage for seeds, grasses, and grains.

Cinnamon Teal

The Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera) is a species of small dabbling duck found in western North and South America. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Cinnamon Teal:

Physical Characteristics:
– The male Cinnamon Teal has bright reddish plumage on the head, neck, and underparts, with bright blue upperwing-coverts and a slightly larger bill than the Blue-winged Teal, its close relative.
– The female Cinnamon Teal has duller brown plumage with a mottled appearance.
– Both sexes have white-lined wings and a better-developed bill for straining food than the Blue-winged Teal.

– Cinnamon Teals prefer shallow ponds, marshes, and lakes with alkaline water, often bordered by low herbaceous growth.
– They can be found in various regions of North and South America, with different subspecies occupying specific areas:
– Spatula cyanoptera septentrionalium breeds from British Columbia to northwestern New Mexico and winters in northwestern South America.
– Spatula cyanoptera tropica occurs in the Cauca Valley and Magdalena Valley in Colombia.
– Spatula cyanoptera cyanoptera is found in southern Peru, southern Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands.

Feeding Behavior:
– Cinnamon Teals are dabbling ducks, feeding mostly on plants and occasionally on small invertebrates.

– Cinnamon Teals are known to chase not only intruders of their own species but also Blue-winged Teals, although they appear to be less intensely territorial than the latter.

Migration and Plumage:
– Nonbreeding Cinnamon Teals can be drab and hard to identify, but males molt back into their reddish body plumage by midwinter.

Eurasian Wigeon

The Eurasian wigeon, also known as the European wigeon, is a species of dabbling duck in the genus Mareca. Here are some key characteristics and information about the Eurasian wigeon:

– Distribution: The Eurasian wigeon has a large distribution, breeding from Iceland across northern Europe and Asia. Some populations are migratory, while others, such as those in England, are non-migratory. During the winter, they can be found from the British Isles to northern Africa and India, and a few even migrate to the United States and Canada.

– Size: Eurasian wigeons are medium-sized ducks, ranging in length from 45 to 58 cm, with a wingspan of 75 to 86 cm. They weigh between 415 to 971 g.

– Sexual Dimorphism: Eurasian wigeons are sexually dimorphic, with males being more vibrantly colored than females. Adult males have a creamy white forehead, a chestnut brown head and neck, and iridescent green speckling behind their eyes. Their upper breast is pinkish brown, and their lower breast and flanks are white but appear grey. They have a black-tipped tail with white upper coverts, and their wing coverts are also white with a black tip. Females, on the other hand, have a beige head and neck, which is speckled greenish, and their sides and breast are rufous.

– Distinguishing Features: Eurasian wigeons are most commonly confused with American wigeons. Adult male Eurasian wigeons can be distinguished from American wigeons by their reddish head and grey vermiculated sides. Females have speckled grey at the base of their wings, whereas American wigeons have white.

– Habitat and Behavior: Eurasian wigeons can be found in areas of shallow water with aquatic vegetation. They feed by dabbling in the water and dunking their heads, tail up, to reach plant matter and other food underwater. They are often seen in flocks, sometimes among flocks of their nearest relative, the American wigeon. On occasion, the two species of wigeons will hybridize, with male hybrids appearing as intermediates between the parent species.

– Conservation Status: The conservation status of the Eurasian wigeon is least concern. It is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.



The northern shoveler, also known as the shoveler, is a common and widespread dabbling duck with some unique features and characteristics. Here is some key information about the northern shoveler:

– Distribution: The northern shoveler breeds in northern areas of Europe, across the Palearctic, and most of North America. During the winter, it can be found in southern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. It is a rare vagrant to Australia.

– Size: The northern shoveler is a medium-sized duck, with a length ranging from 43 to 56 cm and a wingspan of about 30 inches. It weighs around 1.3 lbs.

– Distinctive Bill: The most distinctive feature of the northern shoveler is its large, spatula-shaped bill, which is twice as wide at the tip as it is at the base. This uniquely shaped bill is ideal for straining small swimming invertebrates from the water, as the duck feeds primarily by holding its bill in the water while swimming and straining out food as it goes.

– Sexual Dimorphism: Male northern shovelers have dark green heads, white breasts, and chestnut flanks, while females are mottled brown. In flight, both males and females have a light blue upper wing-patch with a narrow white border and an iridescent green trailing edge.

– Habitat: Northern shovelers are birds of open wetlands, such as wet grasslands or marshes with some emergent vegetation. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, including Eurasia, western North America, and the Great Lakes region of the United States.

– Feeding and Behavior: Northern shovelers feed by tipping headfirst into shallow water and straining out small invertebrates with their specialized bills. They are relatively quiet birds, with the male having a clunking call and the female producing a Mallard-like quack. They are known to tolerate human presence and can be relatively tame.

– Status: The population of northern shovelers in North America appears to be increasing, and the species is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. In Tennessee, they are considered a fairly common migrant and an uncommon wintering duck.


The Garganey (Spatula querquedula) is a small dabbling duck that breeds in much of Europe and across the Palearctic. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Garganey:

– Distribution: The Garganey is a migratory bird, with the entire population moving to southern Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Australasia during the winter of the Northern hemisphere. They are rare breeding birds in the British Isles, with most breeding in quiet marshes in Norfolk and Suffolk. In Ireland, a few pairs breed in County Wexford and at Lough Beg in County Londonderry, with occasional breeding elsewhere.

– Size: The Garganey is slightly larger than a teal, with a length ranging from 37 to 41 cm and a wingspan of 70 to 80 cm. It weighs around 300 to 400 g.

– Distinctive Features: The male Garganey has a distinctive white stripe around its eye and blue and white patches along its wings. The female is less colorful, with a brownish-gray body and a dark eye-stripe.

– Habitat: Garganeys can be found in wetlands with reedy and other fringing vegetation. They spend the winter in central Africa, with small numbers appearing in the UK between August and October.

– Feeding and Behavior: Garganeys feed mainly by skimming rather than upending, and they eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates and plants. The male has a distinctive crackling mating call, while the female is rather silent for a female duck, but can manage a feeble quack.

– Conservation Status: The Garganey is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. The status of the Garganey on the IUCN Red List is least concern.

Mottled Duck

The Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula) is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is intermediate in appearance between a female Mallard and an American Black Duck. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Mottled Duck:

– Distribution: The Mottled Duck is primarily found along the Gulf of Mexico coast, from Texas to Florida, and in parts of Mexico and Central America. There is also a unique subspecies called the Florida Mottled Duck, which is found only in peninsular Florida and is nonmigratory.

– Size: The Mottled Duck is a relatively large duck, similar in size to a Mallard, with a length ranging from 17 to 24 inches (44-61 cm) and a wingspan of 32.7 to 34.3 inches (83.1-87.2 cm). The male weighs between 30.9 and 43.8 ounces (876-1241 g), while the female weighs between 24.7 and 40.6 ounces (699-1151 g).

– Distinctive Features: The Mottled Duck has a dark body, lighter head and neck, and orange legs. Both males and females have a shiny green-blue speculum (wing patch), which is not bordered with white as in the Mallard. The male has a bright yellow bill, while the female has a deep to pale orange bill, occasionally lined with black splotches around the edges and near the base.

– Habitat: Mottled Ducks can be found in brackish and freshwater marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, canals, ditches, and mosquito impoundments. They are often seen in coastal areas and are adapted to living in a variety of wetland habitats.

– Feeding and Behavior: The diet of Mottled Ducks includes seeds of aquatic plants and grasses, insects, snails, and occasionally small fish. They are dabbling ducks, feeding by tipping their heads underwater or upending in shallow water to reach food.

– Conservation Status: The Mottled Duck is not currently listed as a threatened or endangered species. However, the Florida Mottled Duck, being a unique subspecies, is of conservation concern due to its limited range and potential for hybridization with Mallards.

Silver Teal

The Silver Teal (Spatula versicolor), also known as the Versicolor Teal, is a species of dabbling duck that breeds in South America. Here are some key features and characteristics of the Silver Teal:

– Distribution: The Silver Teal’s range includes southern Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, and the Falkland Islands. The southernmost birds migrate to southern Brazil during the winter.

– Size: The Silver Teal is a small duck, with an average length of about 14 inches (35 cm).

– Distinctive Features: The male Silver Teal has a black cap that extends below the eyes, a bluish bill with a yellow tip, and a green speculum (wing patch) with a white border. The female has a similar coloration but is slightly duller in appearance.

– Habitat: Silver Teals can be found in a variety of freshwater wetland types, including marshes, ponds, and lakes. They prefer areas with reed beds for breeding and nesting.

– Feeding and Behavior: Silver Teals are placid ducks but may become protective of their eggs, young, and females. They feed by dabbling, tipping their heads underwater or upending in shallow water to reach food.

– Conservation Status: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the Silver Teal as a species of least concern.


1. What are dabbling ducks?

Dabbling ducks, also known as puddle ducks, are a type of shallow water duck that feeds primarily along the surface of the water or by tipping headfirst into the water to graze on aquatic plants, vegetation, larvae, and insects. They are characterized by their flat, broad bills, which allow them to feed more quickly.

2. How many species of dabbling ducks are there?

Depending on how each species is classified, there are approximately 50-60 different species of dabbling ducks. Some familiar species include mallards, northern shovelers, American wigeons, American black ducks, gadwalls, blue-winged teals, northern pintails, and silver teals.

3. What is the difference between dabbling ducks and diving ducks?

Dabbling ducks feed near the water’s surface, while diving ducks, as their name suggests, dive deep underwater in search of food. Dabbling ducks have flat, broad bills, while diving ducks have narrow bills that are better suited for catching food underwater.

4. Are dabbling ducks vocal?

Yes, dabbling ducks tend to be very vocal birds, and both males and females can make a variety of different sounds. Females are more likely to give the typical hoarse quacking calls, while males’ calls can be more unique, including whistles, squeaks, and honks.

5. Where are dabbling ducks most common?

Dabbling ducks are most common in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and are strongly migratory. They occur worldwide, chiefly on inland waters.

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