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Identifying ducks - do you know your dabblers from your divers?

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust's Rachel Shaw tells us how to recognise the different species of ducks that can be seen in the winter:

Winter is a wonderful time to see wildlife. As the cold grip of the Arctic winter takes hold on the lakes, pools and marshes of Northern Europe and Russia, huge numbers of swans, ducks and geese retreat to the relative warmth of the UK.

Our lakes, rivers, reservoirs and coasts are a winter home for an estimated 2.1 million ducks!

A Pochard. Photo credit: Tom Marshall.
A Pochard. Photo credit: Tom Marshall.

Ducks can be split into two broad groups: dabblers and divers. As the name suggests, diving ducks feed mainly by diving underwater, using their strong feet (and sometimes their wings) to swim. Dabbling ducks, however, feed predominantly at the surface, sometimes even grazing on land. Many dabblers can often be seen upending, with their heads underwater and their bums in the air.


The mallard is the most familiar of all the dabbling ducks. They have a shiny green head, maroon-brown chest, yellow bill and curly black feathers just above the tail. Female mallards are brown and mottled in comparison.

A mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) male stood on ice in Scotland.
A mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) male stood on ice in Scotland.


The wigeon is a medium-sized duck with a round head and short bill. Males are grey with a pink breast, orange head, yellow forehead and obvious white wing patches that can be seen when they fly. Females are similar to mallard females, but with rusty brown plumage and a pointed tail. They can be spotted dabbling in close-knit groups or flying in tight formations over wetlands.


A common dabbling duck, particularly during the winter, shovelers feed by sweeping their large, flat bills back and forth through the water, filtering out small invertebrates, plant seeds and other plant matter. The male has a dark green head, white breast and orangey-brown sides during the breeding season.

A tufted duck. Photo credit: Guy Edwardes/2020VISION.
A tufted duck. Photo credit: Guy Edwardes/2020VISION.


A plump, grey diving duck, a male pochard has a chestnut head and a black chest and rear end. The female is a darker, duller grey-brown. The pochard is a diving duck and feeds on plant seeds, waterweed, snails and other aquatic invertebrates below the water's surface.

Tufted duck

A wigeon. Photo credit: Danny Green/2020VISION.
A wigeon. Photo credit: Danny Green/2020VISION.

The tufted duck is very distinctive: the female is entirely chocolate-brown, while the male is black with white flanks and a long tuft at the back of the head. They are diving ducks that feed on waterweed, plant seeds and aquatic invertebrates.


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