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  • Writer's pictureKeith Bailey

How To Easily Identify 10 Common Types Of Duck And Geese

It might sound like quite the task, but identifying duck and geese isn’t that hard. To prove it, I wrote this quick guide of the 10 most common subspecies you will encounter and some tricks to help you put a name to them.

Being able to identify what it is that is within your crosshairs is an important skill for big game and waterfowl hunters alike. The tricky part for waterfowl hunters, however, is that there is a large number of different duck and geese that you might come across while out in the wilderness.

But don’t despair yet. It’s actually not all that hard to learn to discern between the different kinds of common birds.

You just need to have some basic identifying skills to be able to know exactly what it is that you’re hunting. Here’s a quick guide that will come in handy the next time that you’re out hunting duck and geese.


The Mallard is probably the first kind of duck that comes to your mind when you imagine the animal. It’s beautiful, easy to spot, and common in pretty much every area where you might be hunting.

It’s not hard to identify, as the males have a very distinct color scheme. They have dark-colored heads and necks that end with white rings that simulate collars around their necks. The males also have blue, shiny feathers on the backs of their wings that are easily visible when they’re flying.

As for the females, they have a pattern of mostly light and dark brown feathers and a stripe along their heads. The Mallard is one of the most famous ducks in the world, and for good reason.


The Gadwall isn’t nearly as common as the mallard, but it can still be found pretty much anywhere in America depending on the time of year. It also differs from the mallard in another sense: the male and female look basically the same.

They both are around 18 inches long and have similarly-sized wingspans of around 30 inches. Their color schemes are slightly different, with males sporting an intricate gray pattern that is bigger on the chest and more detailed along the side.

The females are mostly brown with light-colored tail and belly feathers. The male is typically larger than the female, though not by a whole lot.

Canada Goose

No, we aren’t talking about the jacket brand. The Canada goose is much like the mallard in that it is the archetypal species of its genus.

Canada geese live year-round in the northern region of the United States, and some will spend their winters in the southern half of the country. That means that they are a super common goose to see while out hunting, so you should get familiar.

You probably already know what they look like, but their key feature is the white streak beneath their chins. Their heads and necks are all-black aside from that streak. Their bodies are mostly gray while their rears are white. Trust us when we say that these are easy to identify birds.

Northern Shoveler

While the Northern Shoveler duck is more common in England than it is in America, they are still among the most common waterfowl that you will see.

Their name gives you a hint as to their defining characteristic: it’s their bill. It has a very obvious shape that is flat and long, almost like the head of a shovel. It almost resembles the bill of a platypus.

The male has green speculum and head feathers, while the female looks mostly like the mallard female aside from the trademark bill. Shovelers are beautiful birds that are often disregarded by hunters for a supposed lack of taste. However, this is generally thought to just be a rumor, as Shovelers taste just fine.

Snow Goose

The Snow Goose is a far cry from a Canada Goose, and that makes them very easy to tell apart. As the name implies, Snow Geese are almost completely white aside from some dark tail feathers. Their bills are pink with a distinct area of black around their actual mouth.

One tricky aspect in identifying a Snow Goose is that there is also a “blue morph” of the bird that has a blue body rather than a white one. Their heads are still the same, however, so look out for the white head and neck and that easily identifiable bill.

Snow Geese are mostly found in the south during winter.

Greater White-Fronted Goose

One of the more unique goose subspecies, the Greater White-Fronted Goose is also known by the name Specklebelly Goose. This is helpful because it describes one of their key characteristics.

The goose has a light-colored belly with several dark splotches that run horizontally along it. This is super easy to spot, especially when they are flying. Another detail that identifies the Greater White-Fronted Goose is the strip of white where their heads meet their beaks.

There aren’t any huge differences between the males and females of this species, so don’t worry about that when trying to identify them. Just look for that streak of white on their heads and that pattern on the belly and you should have no trouble.

Northern Pintail

Absent from only some of the western states, the Northern Pintail is a duck that is worth memorizing due to its relatively subtle appearance that doesn’t immediately make it stand out from other birds.

It can be hard to tell the female apart from a female mallard, but the male has long tail feathers that rise from the body at an angle. The male also has a gorgeous combination of white, brown, gray, and black across its body. Its brown head is broken up by a line of white that rises up from its neck and chest.

It is a dabbling duck, meaning that it will stick its entire head underwater with its tail feathers poking out, giving you a clear look at its namesake “pintail.”

Wood Duck

Perhaps the most striking duck on this list, the Wood Duck is well-loved by hunters for its colorful appearance.

The male is covered in different colors and patterns, including a very distinct series of white lines across its face that almost look like warpaint. You don’t need to memorize every detail of the Wood Duck to identify it; simply seeing its amazing plumage once will let you know when you see one in the future.

Even the female is easy to identify: it isn’t incredibly vibrant, but it does have a white ring around its eye that gives it away. If you’re still stuck, you can tell the Wood Duck by its whistle-like call.


The Redhead is another common duck found in North America, with a range that extends across all of the states depending on the time of year. Its year-round habitat within America is mostly limited to California and the northeast, however.

We’re sure that you’ve already guessed the way that you can identify a Redhead, and yes, it is by its red head. They also have distinctly black chests that don’t feature any patterns.

The females are brown with a slight red tint. Redheads are part of a group of duck called diving ducks, and that means that they get their food by completely submerging themselves under the water.


The Goldeneye duck is much like the redhead in that it gives away its most obvious indicator in its name. However, the yellow-tinted eyes of the Goldeneye are a bit harder to spot than the bright heads of the redheads.

With that in mind, it’s also useful to remember a few more details.

Another dead giveaway for the Goldeneye is that the males have a stark white circle near their bills on an otherwise all-black head. It should also be noted that their bills are particularly short, and the same is true for the females. They’re relatively small, weighing only about 2 pounds on average.


New to duck hunting? Here are 10 waterfowl hunting tips that will instantly help you.


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