1 | Barrow's Goldeneye
Mississippi Flyway bias alert. I’ve shot loads of gorgeous common goldeneyes and have two on the wall, but I’ve never witnessed a Barrow’s. The closest I’ve come is seeing a picture of a drake someone shot on a lake I often hunt.
Honestly, Barrow’s don't look that different than commons, exhibiting a blacker back, white crescent cheek patch and other nuances. Still, for a Midwesterner, they’re rare, and the first good drake I shoot will be bound for the taxidermist.
Photo credit: © Neal Mishler/Images on the Wildside
2 | Bufflehead
These little “surf doves” are common migratory visitors across much of the country, yet no one can dispute the visual appeal of their puffy, iridescent green and purple heads and stark white sides and belly. I’ve shot more than my share of butterballs through the years yet still pause to admire every drake I kill. They deserve it.
Photo credit: © Shutterstock
3 | Redhead
These big ducks are fairly common across North America, and hunters take loads of them every season. Still, a truly colored-out bull redhead is a sight to behold. With its stark red head, jet-black breast, ashen sides and grayish back, the redhead stands out anywhere. If anything, redheads might be slightly overshadowed by their more glamorous pochard cousins, canvasbacks.
Photo credit: © Tom Reichner/Shutterstock
4 | Greater Scaup
Before you hit the Mississippi Flyway alert button again, I’ve shot loads of greaters and have a good drake on the wall. Let’s just admit that in many areas of the country, lessers are more common than greaters. That’s why they make the list.
A good bull greater (or lesser, for that matter) is breathtaking. Its speckled back, black breast and greenish-purple head ensure that the greater won’t be kicked out of any beauty contest. Interestingly, old-timers maintained that lesser scaup had more purple in their heads and greaters had more green. Famed writer Gordon MacQuarrie said he’d never taken a bluebill that didn’t have both colors in its noggin plumage. Still, I think there might be something to that old observation when it comes to drakes in breeding plumage. I’ve noticed that green seems more prominent in colored-out greaters, but equally spectacular lessers displayed more purple.
Photo credit: © Erni/Shutterstock
5 | Bull Canvasback
Sorry, no contest. A full-color drake canvasback might be the No. 1 bucket-list bird for most duck hunters in America. I consider myself extremely lucky to have taken quite a few bulls, including several wall-worthy drakes. Hunters on the can-rich Mississippi River often take many prime drake cans every season.
Proudly displaying a black breast, stark-white body and reddish wedge-shaped head, the drake canvasback stands alone among ducks. Hail to the king.
Photo credit: © Tom Tietz/Shutterstock
6 | Epilogue
Maybe I didn’t provide too much fodder for argument in this installment. But wait — what about the drake hooded merganser? Table qualities aside, a bull hoodie is unique and gorgeous beyond words. In fact, that was the first duck I ever took to a taxidermist, and I still have the brilliant drake 28 years later. No sawbill jokes, please. The drake hooded merganser receives a special honorable mention.
Stifle your anger or laughter long enough to hop on social media and let us know your choices for bucket-list diving ducks. Heck, it might even give me some new taxidermy ideas.
Photo credit: © Peter Lakomy/Shutterstock