Last time we covered green-headed male ducks, like Mallards.  This time we’ll take a look at the confusing female Mallards and ducks that look like them.  First of all, let’s look at the female Mallards.  These are the ducks that quite a few female dabblers look like, and even a few of the males.

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The things to look at are the dark eyeline, the blue wing bar (or ‘speculum’), which has a bold white bar on both front and back edges, the dark or dark-splotched bill and the body that’s not very much darker than the head.  Now let’s look at the closely related Black Duck:

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Note the clean yellowish bill (in males – females have a more olive-green bill) with no dark splotch that a female Mallard would have.  Black Ducks have a very dark body compared to the ‘standard’ light head, and contrasting very white underwings.  The speculum (wingbar) in Black Ducks is often more purple than blue, in contrast to the Mallard’s very blue bar, and may have a thin white band at the back, but no white band at the front.  Black Ducks and Mallards hybridize readily, though, resulting in birds with various plumage variations, such as green segments on the head, or white portions of the tail.

Next is the somewhat similar female Gadwall, a bird of marshes, wooded streams and ponds, that tends to occur in pairs or small groups rather than large flocks.  The male is a very plain grayish-brown duck with a very obvious black rump and a white speculum.  The female (and eclipse male) is a rather Mallard-like duck, with somewhat more delicate specking, a dark bill with yellowish (or even pinkish-looking) edges and the bright white speculum.

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The last duck we’ll consider is the female Pintail, which usually occurs in large flocks along with the very distinctive males.  These long-necked, very elegant ducks are among my favorites.  The males are impossible to mistake, with the lovely chocolate-brown heads, curved white neck marking, and long needle-pointed tail off a black-and-cream rump.  The females have a very delicate and attractive, scalloped, Mallard-like pattern, but the plain brown head on the long neck usually gives it away.  When they fly, you’ll see that the females have no strong speculum color at all, while the males have a long, narrow green speculum.

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