Today’s set of diving ducks are birds of deeper water, usually fresh water lakes, rivers or reservoirs, but these ducks may also turn up along the coast as well.

The first pair of males are red-headed ducks that can be told apart by the face shape and the body color.  Both kinds of males are dark in front and behind, but in between, Redheads are grey, while Canvasbacks are a brilliant white, like fresh canvas sails.  When it comes to the face, Redheads have a sharply rounded head, so the face drops almost vertically to the blue beak, which pokes out at a sharp angle.  Canvasbacks are very different – the long, shallow curve of the face sweeps majestically down through the beginning of the beak with hardly a break, and the dark beak then curves out to the tip, almost more like a swan’s than a duck’s bill.  The females are similarly brown and plain-looking, rather like the female Ring-necked Duck, but the head shape is similar to the males of each species, and they don’t usually turn up alone, making identification easier.  Both these ducks tend to winter in large groups, and can co-occur in large mixed flocks.  They often loaf on the surface, diving once in a while, but offering plenty of time for leisurely looks.


The second set of ducks are smaller birds that pop up and dive fairly frequently.  They usually occur in small groups of several males and females, or sometimes more.  While the males are easily distinguished, it’s possible to confuse the female Bufflehead for the male Goldeneye if you’re not very familiar with the ducks.  There are two things to look for – Bufflehead females have a broad white line running front to back at about bill level on the head, and have a dark back like the males, but with grey sides (unlike the bright white sides of the male Bufflehead).  Female Goldeneye do not have  the broad white stripe, and male Goldeneye have a lot of white on the wings along the back.  Male Goldeneye also have a white spot behind the bill, not a broad white strip running front to back across the head.  Note that this Goldeneye is the Common Goldeneye, not the more northern (and less common in these parts) Barrow’s Goldeneye.  I may deal with the less common ducks later, but this is not something we’re likely to run into, and also not very easy to mistake for something else.