Explore the Diverse World of Ducks

With the excitement surrounding the release of the new Migration movie, which follows a family of Mallards in their attempt to migrate from New England, through New York City, and ultimately to Jamaica, we’d like to share some fun facts about Mallards and the other duck species we care for at International Bird Rescue.


Mallard Duck. Photo by Angie Trumbo
Male Mallards have striking, shiny green heads. Photo by Angie Trumbo – International Bird Rescue

Mallards are probably the first ducks that come to mind when you think of the birds at your local parks or ponds. Adult males have striking, shiny green heads and bright orange legs. The females are a bit less showy, but still very beautiful with their mottled brown feathers. Both males and females have a patch of iridescent purple-blue feathers on their wings that are visible when in flight. Mallards, with their adaptable nature, can be found all across North America, Europe, and Asia, including along the coasts of Iceland and Greenland!

Because Mallards are so common in urban areas, they often run into conflict with people. Our Bird Helpline handles numerous calls each spring and summer dealing with ducklings caught in swimming pools or on busy roads. Our centers also raise hundreds of orphaned Mallard ducklings each year. You can learn more about how to recognize when a duckling needs help (and when they do not!) in our handy infographic.

Surf Scoter

Male Surf Scoters have a large, unique bill with coloring reminiscent of candy corn. Photo by Katrina Plummer

While some ducks are most often spotted in lakes and ponds, others make their living out on the oceans! One of the species of sea ducks that we care for at Bird Rescue is the Surf Scoter. The males have black bodies with a white head patch and a large, unique bill with coloring reminiscent of candy corn. Females are mostly black with white feather patches on the face.

Surf Scoters spend the winter months foraging along the Pacific Coast, which puts them at risk of contamination from natural oil seeps occurring along the same coastline. Our trained staff and volunteers are ready to stabilize and wash these ducks and see them through to release. If you see a Surf Scoter simply lying on the beach, it may be oiled and in need of help! Call Bird Rescue or your local wildlife rehabilitator if you ever find a scoter in this situation.

Ruddy Duck

During the breeding season, male Ruddy Ducks’ bills turn bright blue. Photo by Angie Trumbo – International Bird Rescue

These small diving ducks are often easily identified by their tails which they hold upright as they swim. Something special about these ducks is that during the breeding season, males’ bills turn bright blue!

Ruddy Ducks are some of our favorite species to care for at International Bird Rescue because of their feisty personalities. We have treated them for a wide range of injuries as well as oil and other contaminants. Keeping our wetlands and waterways free from pollution will help these unique ducks thrive in the wild.

Northern Shoveler

Male Northern Shoveler in care. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds
Northern Shovelers are recognized for their large, spoon-shaped bill. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

Speaking of unique bills, the Northern Shoveler definitely deserves mentioning, not because of color, but rather because of shape. A large, spoon-shaped bill is what earns the shoveler its name. These dapper ducks use their bills and the comb-like structures that run along it to filter out their favorite foods from the waters surface.

Shovelers are known for being a species that can survive droughts as they can feed in shallow waters, but that same skill can also put them at risk to diseases like avian botulism. These outbreaks can occur in bodies of water with low oxygen and litte freshwater input. Luckily, Bird Rescue’s team is experienced in caring for avian botulism patients and can provide affected birds with the care they need to return to the wild. Learn more about Northern Shovelers on our Meet the Birds page.


At first glance, Buffleheads look black and white, but in the light, their plumage has a shimmering array of colors. Photo by Katrina Plummer

The award for most dazzling duck plumage has to go to the small but fierce Bufflehead. At first glance, these little diving ducks might appear to be just black and white, but take a closer look in good lighting and you’ll see a shimmering array of colors in their feathers.

You can see Buffleheads all across North America, from their breeding grounds in Canada and down through the U.S. and northern Mexico in the migration and winter months. Keep an eye out for them bobbing up and diving down in the water after their favorite aquatic snacks.