“King Can” is a large diving duck prized by duck hunters, especially on the East Coast. Canvasbacks are well known for being great tablefare. Unlike many other diving ducks, they feed primarily on aquatic vegetation.
The mallard is one of the most widely distributed ducks in the world, and makes up the bulk of the duck harvest every waterfowl season in the United States. Mallards have all the attributes hunters like in a duck: they’re big and pleasing to the eye; they work well to calling and decoys (without being pushovers); they’re found in numbers in every flyway, and they’re delicious to eat.
Often swarming decoy spreads in large flocks, green-winged teal are known for their quick, erratic, agile flight—but their reputation as fast fliers isn’t exactly true. In fact, when it comes to top-end flight speed, green-wings are actually slower than mallards.
The northern pintail is another prized duck among waterfowlers, and shows up especially often for hunters in the southern Pacific Flyway and the southern Mississippi Flyway (California’s Central Valley and the Gulf Coast). Pintails are early migrants compared to many other puddle ducks, but they’re early nesters on the northern prairies, too, often creating their nests shortly after the first spring thaw.
Scaup, better known as bluebills, are the bread-and-butter duck for most big-water diver hunters. There are two varieties—lesser scaup and greater scaup. Greater scaup are found more often in coastal areas, while lessers frequent freshwater lakes and rivers. Although their numbers have declined, lesser scaup remain the most abundant diving ducks in North America.
These attractive diving ducks are similar in appearance to bluebills, but with a distinctive red head. Redheads winter in great numbers in coastal Texas (Laguna Madre), and are a popular target for duck hunters in that area. Interestingly, redheads are well known as parasitic nesters. They frequently lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks and even shore birds.
Unlike the canvasback, bluebill and redhead, which favor big, open water, ring-necked ducks, which are also divers, are more commonly found on smaller ponds and swamps during the migration. These ducks are similar in appearance to bluebills, but sport a distinctive ring around their bills (many duck hunters refer to them as “ring-billed” ducks, rather than ring necks).
Everybody knows the shoveler. One of the most distinctive—and common—puddle ducks in North America, shovelers, despite their awkward bill, are handsome ducks in their own right, and a lot of fun to hunt. Shovelers use their large bills to filter small invertebrates from the mud, which can give them a stronger flavor than other ducks. Interestingly, shoveler pairs are monogamous—a common trait of geese, but not of puddle ducks.
The American wigeon is a strikingly colored species coveted by many duck hunters. Wigeon are known for their often peculiar behavior and frequent whistling vocalizations. They’re well-known for stealing food from other ducks, but are also frequent dry-land grazers, similar to geese. Wigeon nest farther north than most other dabbling ducks, particularly in Alaska and Canada’s Boreal Forest.