20 Best Duck Species To Hunt in North America

mallards flying

Getting familiar with the numerous types of Northern hemisphere ducks is crucial for all waterfowl hunters.

Once all the different ducks’ species are familiar, it gets easier to identify them out in the wild. Not to mention, you can target each destination depending on the type you’re seeking.

Thus it would be best if you start by learning the 20 Best Duck Species to Hunt in North America before venturing into active hunting expeditions.


Top 20 Best Ducks to Hunt in North America

1. Common Merganser

common merganser

One duck you’re likely to come across is the Common Merganser when out in the wild hunting. It is characterized by its small size with slim and streamlined body features. On top of that, it has a short beak with a bill that’s hooked with serrated edges.

Of all duck species, Common Mergansers have a massive affinity for fish. They consume a lot of fish as compared to other ducks. Unlike their counterparts, their beak design makes it easy to hunt and tear apart flesh. But wait, there’s more since they seek other prey in the water, making them rapacious hunters. 

2. Blue-Billed Stifftail

No hunting adventure is complete without bagging the one-of-a-kind Blue-billed Stifftail. As the name suggests, this North American duck species’ main feature is its stiff tail that points upwards. As if that’s not enough, it’s easily identifiable by its exceptional diving skills.

The stiff tail works like radar and keeps the duck in full control while swimming about seeking food. Moreover, another use for the stiff tail is to mark territory or to attract a breeding mate. It’s most common among male Stifftail ducks.

Alternatively, a great way to pinpoint this duck species is checking for its colored blue bill and compact small body.

3. Northern Shoveler

northern shoveler male and female

No list of North American duck species is complete without mentioning the Northern Shoveler. It’s one of the most distinguishable dabbling ducks in the area with its big spoon-like bill.

Male Northern Shovelers are attractive with their bright white chests, green head, and rusty-colored sides. However, females resemble other brown species with the orange beak as their only distinction.

An avid hunter must venture out into the wetlands in more shallow patches to bag a Northern Shoveler. Check for mating pairs that are known to remain together for long. More so, it takes exceptional skills to spot them due to heavy camouflage in such regions.  

4. Mallard

Perhaps a favorite of every hunter, the Mallard is one of the easiest North American duck species to identify.

Why? It’s because they have a large body that’s easy to spot way off in the distance and a round head. Also, these ducks have flat bills that are wider than most.

Equally important about Mallards is their tail design. At the end of their massive bodies is a tail that remains above the water. Likewise, they have long-flight feathers that are noticeable when they take off.

Mallards are easy to hunt due to their aggressive nature. It means they can’t keep quiet, making it easy to hear them from a distance. As a result of their loud call, they easily attract other species to one area, meaning hunters don’t have to keep calling out.

5. Common Eider

common eider male and female

The coast of New England is home to the Common Eider North American duck species. It’s one of the largest ducks in North America and deserves a place on every hunter’s list of favorite ducks to hunt. To drive this fact home, one Common Eider can weigh upwards of 5 pounds.

Not only is this bird plump in size, but it’s also easy to note with its distinct white feathers with a black belly area. Also, the jet-black color extends to the crest and wingtips. To top that off, the Eider has a long and sloping bill that’s yellow.

As if that’s not enough, its color combination extends to include a patch of lime green at the back of its head. Also, it has a peachy color on its lower breast area. Such attractive features are enough to make it a must-have.

6. Wood Duck

A rather shy duck, the Wood Duck is one of the most sought-after North American duck species. It’s arguably one of the most beautiful ducks with its distinct colors and small face. While in search of it, it’s best to check wooded, marsh, and swampy areas.

While hunting the Wood Duck, keep an eye out because it’s swift and agile, making it easy to miss. It likes flying at the crack of dawn or while the sun goes down when there’s low light in the surrounding area. Spotting becomes challenging even though the hen has a high-pitched whining call.

7. Black Duck

Like the Mallard, the black duck is another of the larger duck species found in the Northern hemisphere. It’s closely related to the Mallard even though it’s much harder to spot out in the wild.

Due to its scarcity, many hunters have resulted in looking out in the areas frequented by Mallards. They tend to fly among them for safety in numbers.

Though sharing color similarities with female Mallards, the Black Duck’s plumage is darker, with no distinction between males and females. The only way to distinguish them is by checking the bill. The females have a greenish bill with dark spots, while the male is yellow.

8. Black Scoter

black scoter duck

Black Scoters are larger North American duck species that frequent the Northern hemisphere. One distinguishable feature of the Black Scoter is its bulging beak. Also, it’s bright in color with attractive patterns.

On the same note, the Black Scoter has dark plumage without any other marks on it. Apart from inhabiting the continent’s northern areas, a hunter can check rocky regions that don’t seem like bird nesting areas.

9. Blue-Winged Teal

In comparison to Mallards, a Blue-winged Teal is smaller in size with a similar rounded head. Still, it’s important to note that it has a more massive bill. In terms of colors, breeding males are identifiable by their brown colors with darker patches in the breast area.

Not to mention, they have a white crescent mark that’s just behind the bill. Moreover, there’s a similar color patch is on their black rear. On the other hand, female Blue-winged Teal has a unique brown coloring with a bolder blue on the area above its wings.

Like many other North American duck species, these ducks like calm water bodies like lakes and big ponds. Also, look for them in marshes where there’s a mixture of grass and wetlands.

10. Northern Pintail

The Northern Pintail isn’t characterized by a noticeable plumage but rather by its elegant and sleek look. The drake is the most distinguishable Northern Pintail and is known for its incredible speeds. For many hunters, landing a Northern Pintail is a dream come true.

The duck has a wingspan similar to that of a Mallard, with the only distinction being its slender body. More so, it has a longer tail and neck. One way to identify the duck is by its two long sprigs that emerge from its tail feathers. Don’t forget it’s an excellent swimmer and can even walk on land.

Unlike other North American bird species that can be easily decoyed, the Northern Pintail isn’t. In short, it takes a skilled hunter to land one due to their wary nature.

11. Gadwall Duck

male and female gadwall duck

A hunt is never complete without bagging a Gadwall Duck. Its plumage makes it one-of-a-kind with its tweed design. More so, the ducks are grey with a mixture of brown, similar to the color of pintails.

For any hunter seeking an easy hunt, Gadwall Ducks are the best option due to their abundance. They offer a guarantee of not going home empty-handed. Moreover, it’s easy to decoy them into open areas even though they prefer marshes in the fall.

Don’t forget that a Gadwall Duck has a large head with a noticeable square shape. Also, the beak is thin and longer than that of a Mallard. Additionally, it looks slender while in flight.

12. Green-winged Teal

green winged teal duck

Of all the North American duck species, the Green-winged Teal is the smallest of the lot. Still, this doesn’t exclude them from the list of priced ducks since they compensate for size with sheer bravery. Additionally, they are fast fliers who prefer the safety of a flock while in flight.

The male Green-winged Teal has a green crescent on its cinnamon head. This crescent appears from the front to the back of its head. In addition, the male and female share green patches on their flight feathers in the specula area.

Unlike other ducks that use noticeable calls, it’s not as easy to identify Green-winged Teals. It’s because males use a whistling sound to call out. A hunter must keep this in mind while searching and looking for them in marshy or flooded areas.

13. Wigeon

Talk of a bird with loads of pizzaz, the Wigeon is another favorite North American duck species. It prefers still lake or pond areas, which it dominates with its whistle when calling out.

It’s easy to identify breeding males out in the wild with their noticeable white crowns. Also, they have a green patch on both eyes. On the other hand, females are brown with a grey-brown head. Moreover, they have a short bill similar to that of geese that pluck plants.

In contrast with other ducks that eat meat, Wigeons are known vegans. A quick search in fall reveals flocks that come together to feed on vegetation in green fields or wetlands.

14. Redheaded Duck

redhead duck

A look around in open water areas and coastlines reveals a one-of-a-kind duck due to its gleaming redhead. The adult Redheaded Duck males light up any space they congregate and have a black/greyish body.

Unlike other bird species that prefer solitary existences, this duck thrives in flocks and is among the most sociable. More so, during winter migration, they gather in the thousands on the Gulf Coast. In summer, they enjoy nesting in the Great Plains, one of the top destinations for hunters.

However, only the male ducks have the redhead while females are brown from the top of their heads to the tails’ tip. The only similarity that males and females share is black-tipped beaks.

15. Lesser Scaup

Best described as the North American bird species jet, the Lesser Scaup is medium in size. It’s best known for its enviable diving skills and ability to move in tight-knit groups.

For any hunter seeking the Lesser Scaup, the best areas to search include estuaries, large lakes, and reservoirs. Additionally, during winter migration, they can gather by the thousands. The bird is abundant in nature and a favorite of many waterfowl hunters.

Male ducks are a distinguishable black and white while females have a more chocolate appearance. They usually float on the surface and dive down when they need to feed on small marine life and plants.

Of all the ducks in the Northern hemisphere, the Lesser Scaup enjoys spending winter far south. It’s different from other ducks species that don’t go as far as the Caribbean or Central America.

16. Ring-necked Duck

ring necked duck

The best way to identify the Ring-necked Duck from a distance is by its noticeable head that’s peaked. It’s best known as a diving duck searching for food and likes feeding in wetlands and swampy areas.

Male Ring-necked Ducks are easily noted from the females due to their sharp white, grey, and black colors. Females, on the other hand, have a unique brown hue with a patterned face.

This duck gathers into large flocks during winter migration heading for specific lakes in Minnesota. Here they enjoy a winter feast of wild rice.

17. Common Goldeneye Duck

The name alone already reveals why this duck is sought after by many hunters out in the wild. Yes, it has a golden eye due to its brilliant yellow iris. Unlike other ducks that fly in the thousands, the Common Goldeneye likes flying in smaller clusters.

Like other North American duck species, males differ from their female counterparts when it comes to outside appearances. You find the males draped in white plumage around the belly, sides, and breasts. Also, they have a greenish-black head and a black tail.

Alternatively, females have chocolate-colored heads coupled with a white band on the neck. The back area has speckles of black and the upper wings a brownish-black. More so, the beak is black with a yellowish tip.

18. Bufflehead

male bufflehead duck

An adventure in waterfowl hunting is never complete without seeking out the Bufflehead. It’s among the top North American duck species with a noticeable large head. Not to mention, the male has a white head that extends into a dark back.

Additionally, the chest area is also white, and the front face area has a greenish-purple coloring is visible. On the other hand, the female is brown with white patches on the cheek. In comparison to other wild ducks, it has a smaller, more compact body size.

Buffleheads are known as another breed of diving ducks that seek out invertebrates in the water. You can find them in lake areas in the northern regions, where they nest inside trees’ cavities.

19. Canvasback Duck

When seeking out a Canvasback Duck in the wild, look out for its stout neck and a sloping forehead. Also, the bill is quite long in comparison to many other North American duck species.

Like many other ducks species, the males and females differ in color variations. While the females are the general brownish color common among them, males are distinctively colorful. A male Canvasback has a head with similar coloration to a chestnut. His body, on the other hand, is whitish, and he has red eyes.

When breeding season is over, the duck enjoys grouping together for better success when feeding. Apart from aquatic life, they eat plant matter and tubers growing underneath the water.

20. Wild Muscovy Duck

Though there are some domestic Muscovy ducks, they have wild counterparts who are the largest of all North American ducks. A Wild Muscovy Duck has a warty red face with a white and black crown. The neck area is white and extends down to the chest.

However, a male Muscovy duck has a greenish-black back with whitish plumage underneath. It extends to the legs and tail. Unlike their counterparts who prefer open waters, this North American duck species prefers forested areas’ security.

They enjoy staying perched on long trees away from imminent danger and nest in tree cavities. When hunting them, always look up, and luckily, you can spot them on the trees.

Final Point

Some of the 20 North American duck species above are easy to spot, while others might take time.

All in all, they make a waterfowl hunting adventure exciting, to say the least. Now that you know all the common duck species, you can plan your next fowl hunting adventure better.

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