American Wigeon Identification
Male has white patch on top of head with iridescent green checkered pattern on sides of head. Wings have green speculum with white shoulder patch. Easily identified while flying because of the large white shoulder patch on the leading edge of the wing. Foot color is gray.
This elegant puddle duck is common throughout Arizona and prefers wetlands with abundant aquatic vegetation. Often wigeon can be found using shorelines of wetlands where they graze on tender grass shoots. As grazers, these birds are also common visitors to golf courses and park ponds in Arizona’s urban areas. This bird can be found in large flocks of 35 plus birds seeking out resting and feeding areas along Arizona rivers, lakes and stock tanks. Wigeon are excellent to decoy and are less wary than mallard and pintail.
Blue-winged Teal Identification
Similar to the cinnamon teal, both sexes have a powder blue shoulder patch on the wing. The male has a white crescent cheek patch near the bill. Both bill and foot color is dark gray to black.
Blue-winged teal are early migrants into Arizona and often migrate further south and are typically in their Mexican wintering grounds by October. Early season hunters will bag a few Blue winged teal which are often confused with cinnamon teal. The hens of the two species are virtually indistinguishable in the field.
The males of this small duck appear to be black and white. The heads have an iridescent puplish/green heads. The female and immature males have a dull gray head with a white cheek patch. Foot color can be bluish gray to nearly pink.
Bufflehead are common throughout the state. The smallest of the divers, bufflehead prefer open water habitats with aquatic submergent vegetation and aquatic invertebrates. The mature male is readily identified, as it’s white breast stands out a quite a distance. This fast flyer often challenges the best of wing shooters as it fly’s low over water. Buffleheads will remain on high country water often keeping potholes open even though ice is choking in. Many bufflehead are found on Arizona’s lakes and reservoirs and this duck will be attracted to most decoy spreads. Buffelhead are cavity nesters and use holes in standing dead trees to raise their young.
Canada Geese Identification
The male and female Canada geese have the same appearance, but are differentiated by the smaller size of the female.
Canada geese begin to arrive in Arizona in good numbers along the Colorado River in December. Other areas with significant numbers are the White Mountains around Alpine and Saint Johns. A large number of Canada geese also reside near Payson and Roosevelt Lake. Canada Geese prefer to feed near their loafing sites and select areas with green grass forage and grain. These birds are quite habitual and will return to feeding areas if not over harassed by humans. Scout the area and set up decoys pre dawn and you will be rewarded. They are increasingly abundant in our urban centers because of their attraction to the water and grass parks and golf courses provide.
Canvasbacks possess a long sloping black bill as well as black feet. The wings are gray with white and gray vermiculation. The males have a reddish brown head on a white /gray body. Superficially, they resemble redheads but can be distinguished by much whiter backs and the sloping bill.
This largest of the Diving species of waterfowl has preference for large open water, deep reservoirs and lakes. Feeding on aquatic submergent vegetation, the canvasback is dependent on water quality that allows light penetration and growth of aquatic vegetation. Canvasbacks usually appear later in the season and will utilize higher elevation waters up until ice forces them south. Never abundant, their low but stable population size keeps the bag limit low (typically 1 per day) most year.
Cinnamon Teal Identification
Both sexes of this small duck have a powder blue shoulder patch on the wing. Males have a cinnamon color body with a bright red eye. Bills of both sexes are dark gray with the foot color being yellow/orange.
All teal are small ducks but this is the largest of the teal species. Cinnamon teal arriver early to the state. The cinnamon color of the drakes is quite impressive with a brilliant red eye. Cinnamon teal also nest in Northern Arizona and can be found along most river courses where emergent aquatic food plants exist. Large concentrations of cinnamon teal utilize the mudflats of larger reservoirs such as San Carlos and Roosevelt Lake. They are also found in small groups in mud tanks in lower elevations.
Common Merganser Identification
The male of the species has a brilliant orange/red bill with an iridescent green head. The body appears white and black, but at closer look has iridescent green color throughout. The feet are reddish orange. The female has a reddish head with gray body. The bill is orange with orange feet. Both male and female have serrated teeth like points on the bill.
The largest of the mergansers, the common merganser is quite common in Arizona. Found on nearly all reservoirs and river courses in the State the merganser will dive for its food that consists of small fish. They can often be found in large groups along shore in our large resevoirs. The serrated bill on mergansers differentiates this duck from other puddle and diving species. Due to its diet the palatability of merganser flesh is poor.
Male has gray speckled head with a black rump patch. Both sexes have a white speculum with a cinnamon colored shoulder patch. Foot color yellow/orange. At first glance, they are often misidentified as female mallards, but the dark hind-end differentiates them. In flight, the white patch on the back of the wing is distinctive.
Gadwall can be found throughout Arizona and can be identified as the only puddle duck possessing a white speculum on the wing. They are similar in size to pintail and usually prefer wetlands with aquatic submergent vegetation. Gadwall typically resides in flocks of less than 10 birds and decoy well.
Green-winged Teal Identification
Male has a cinnamon colored head with a green stripe on the sides. Both sexes have a green speculum on the wing. Bill and foot color is gray to black. In flight, they appear as small, generally dark birds with a darting, erratic flight pattern.
Green wing teal the smallest of puddle ducks are common throughout Arizona. They are early arrivers to the state and can be found along river courses and reservoirs around the desert as early as September. This fast flying species offers excellent wing shooting and also decoys quite well. Although typically in flocks of ten or less, observations of several hundred in on flock are common along the Gila River west of Phoenix.
Male has green head with olive green bill. Wings of both sexes have purplish/blue speculum and white underside.
Mallards, the largest of Arizona’s puddle ducks are common to Arizona. Concentrations of mallards are typically found near agricultural grain fields that are situated near wetlands or river courses. This species nest throughout the high country of the state namely in the White Mountains and Flagstaff area. Mallards are common on nearly all stock tanks throughout the desert and mountain country. Mallards are adaptable ducks and are common in urban areas. They have been known to form pairs and breed in backyards with swimming pools in Phoenix and Tucson. Mallards typically return to feeding areas so scout your hunting area to locate where the birds are feeding. A mallard call can be quite successful in luring this bird to decoy spreads.
Northern Pintail Identification
Male has chocolate brown head with a slender white strip along the neck. The bill has powder blue strip on each side. Males have long black pointed feather at tail. Wings of both sexes have bronze speculum with gray underside. Foot color ranges from bluish gray to black. The long wings and neck make in flight identification certain with experience. Populations have declined significantly since the 1970’s but have stabilized in the last 2 decades. Because of this, bag limit restrictions are in effect and a 1 pintail bag limit is typical most years.
Pintail usually begin arriving in Arizona in October and are found on most of the states larger wetlands and lakes. This shallow water feeder prefers large open water as opposed to small potholes or stock tanks. Pintail are thought to be the wariest of puddle ducks requiring excellent concealment by the hunter. Pintail whistles are quite effective for attracting this duck into gunning range. Decoys are advisable and the larger the spread the better.
Northern Shovler Identification
Males have green head with light blue shoulder patches on the wings. The bill of both sexes is spatulate (spoon shaped). The primary feathers on the wings have white shafts. Foot color is yellow/orange.
Shovlers or “spoonies” as they are called prefer open water habitats with invertebrates such as daphnia or midge larvae. Shovlers are easily decoyed an often land in a decoy spread even if the hunter is standing up taking a break. Shovlers can be found in large flocks of 20 plus individuals and have a very characteristic “WHOOSH” as they swoop out of the sky to land on a wetland.
Males have a reddish/brown head with a black chest. The body is gray with gray blue foot color. The wings are gray with a dull speculum.
Redheads are common in Arizona and locally nest in the Flagstaff and White Mountain regions. Slightly smaller than the canvasback they occupy similar habitats. Redheads prefer deep water with aquatic submergent vegetation and are usually found on larger reservoirs and lakes. Red heads can be found in flocks of up to 25 individuals and will decoy very well. These fast flyers will often appear out of nowhere to inspect your decoy spread before turning and attempting to land.
Ring-necked Duck Identification
The backs of Ring-necked ducks are dark gray to black. The bill of the male has a small ring around the tip. Close inspection will also reveal a brown ring around the neck hence the name. Both sexes have gray speculum with a tint of iridescnet green and gray feet.
“Ringies” as they’re called are found throughout Arizona on a variety of wetland habitats. Often found on stock tanks throughout the state, this small diver prefers deeper open water areas. This duck often occurs in large flocks up to 50 birds. They are fast flyers and will decoy well.
Ruddy Duck Identification
During the fall and winter months this duck will appear a dull gray/brown. The tail of both sexes has stiff characteristic that sticks up more than out when the duck swims. The bills of both sexes appear somewhat spatulate but not as obvious as the shovler.
Ruddy ducks are common in Arizona and will nest in some of the wetlands in the high country. These ducks typically prefer to dive rather than fly and hunters can usually approach the bird quite close before it dives to the safety of the water world only to resurface out of gunning range. This often overlooked duck as far as table fare can be quite good. Ruddies are typically found on large open water habitats and will form large flocks loafing on lakes and reservoirs during the fall and winter months.
Greater/Lesser Scaup Identification
Both scaup species have white speculums on the wings with it extending out towards the primaries on the greater scaup. Also known as blue bills the scaup have a blue bill. Foot color is gray/black. Scaup have light colored backs with dark green/iridescent heads.
Both scaup species can be found in Arizona and utilize a variety of wetland habitats. Typically found on reservoirs and lakes scaup feed on aquatic submergent vegetation and invertebrate animals. Scaup will also utilize river courses in Arizona and are often found on stock tanks. This duck will decoy easily and typically will appear in small flocks of less than 10.