There are at least 29 types of native ducks in North America. Some of these ducks are harder to find than others, but American waterfowl hunters have a lot of choices. Some people hunt ducks because of their rarity. Others hunt ducks because of their looks or the taste of their meat. In truth, most people hunt ducks because they are what happens to fly past the blind. Nonetheless, there's a most popular duck species for every hunter.
Let's look at 10 ducks that most hunters would love to see fly by early in the morning.
10. Harlequin Duck
Here's a duck that some people might not even know exists. Found from Alaska down to Washington, these cold-weather ducks are unmistakable at a glance.
Unlike most of the ducks on this list, Harlequin are sea ducks. They spend much of their time around the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Hunting Harlequin is an entirely different experience than your typical duck hunt. The Alaska state bag limit for nonresidents is four Harlequin per year. You're not going to fill a freezer hunting them, but you will be sure to make memories you'll never forget.
Canvasbacks are a favorite among American duck hunters for their large size, beautiful appearance, and great-tasting meat. The Canvasback is America's largest diving duck, weighing 3.5 pounds or more and having a wingspan almost 3 feet across.
Hunters can often find Canvasbacks in rafts of 1,000 or more, so hunting them is about putting out a large enough spread to attract their attention. These gorgeous ducks can be hunted everywhere, from Wisconsin to Texas. Still, Louisiana regularly harvests the most "Cans" out of any state, including the 2020-21 season.
Another diving duck, redheads, are fast-flying, beautiful ducks. Since they are both feeders, it's pretty common to hunt for Canvasbacks and have Redheads fly into a spread, and vice versa. Redheads can be found all around the U.S. However, scientists estimate that over 80 percent of America's Redhead population winters in Laguna Madris, a small part of South Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.
While Gadwalls might not be the prettiest duck on this list, they are prevalent throughout the southern United States, especially during the winter. Remember their laid-back demeanor when setting up for Gadwalls compared to other, more aggressive species. Because of this, it's essential to stage more of a relaxed and refugee-like decoy spread with minimal movement. Most Gadwalls winter in Louisiana, but they can also be found in many other southern states.
6. American Black Ducks
The Black Duck is similar in size and color to a female Mallard but slightly darker and has no white on its wing plumage. The males and females look very similar, with one of the key differences being that the male's bill is yellow and the female's bill is a dull green color. Harvest numbers are around the 115,000 mark yearly, so they are challenging to find and hunt. Any hunter with a black duck (one of the most popular duck species in North America) on their wall should be incredibly proud.
You can find black ducks all along the eastern half of the United States, breeding in Maine and Canada and wintering as far south as northern Florida. Look no further than Maryland for the best hunting, as they harvested the most Black Ducks in the 2020-21 season.
5. Northern Pintails
From their distinct whistle call to their narrow wings and long tail feathers, it's hard not to love the Pintail. While the calls are different, hunters will often hunt both Mallards and Pintails at the same time.
Pintails breed in the north-central United States and Canada. They can be found in southern states like Texas and Louisiana during the winter. While both states are good, California is the best state to hunt Pintails. They dominated Pintail harvests with over 102,000 in the 2020-21 season.
If you were to ask a random person on the street to describe what a duck looks like, the features they will most likely point out are orange webbed feet, a yellow bill, and a green head. This is because the most common wild duck in America is the Mallard. With their green heads and distinct call, they're hard to misidentify.
Mallards continue to be an American hunting staple, with over 2.9 million harvested in the 2019-2020 hunting season, the most out of all species of ducks in the country. They can be found all around the U.S., depending on the time of year, but if you want the most action out of a Mallard hunt, Arkansas harvests record numbers of Mallards year in and year out.
3. Green-Winged Teal
"Here and Gone" is the motto for the Green-Winged Teal. Unlike most other ducks, they don't fly high and circle overhead as they come in. Instead, these small ducks fly low and come in fast. Speaking of small, they have an average length of just over 14 inches and an average weight of just over half a pound. This makes Green-Winged Teal the smallest puddle duck in America.
They are easily recognized in the air by their small size and brown head with a green stripe running on either side of their head. Of course, the most noticeable feature is their namesake, the green feathers on the back half of their wings, which are called wing patches (or "specula"). While these ducks will breed in Canada and the northern Midwest, they wander all across the southern United States and down to Mexico.
2. Cinnamon Teal
The next duck on our list is the Cinnamon Teal, another one that is unmistakable from any other species. The drakes have a red body, head, and neck, broken only by a blue patch on the shoulder and a white stripe on the wing. However, the hens are a duller brown color. Cinnamon Teal is found in the western parts of the United States and will breed near the Great Salt Lake and California. They will winter in southern Texas and Arizona, all the way to southern Mexico. It's no wonder why they're one of the most popular duck species in North America.
1. Wood Ducks
The Wood Duck has a charm and beauty that is hard to describe. Wood Ducks are found around most of the United States and are typically found in marshy woodlands. They make a distinct whistling noise that even the most novice hunters can identify.
They are small but gorgeous birds, typically weighing around a pound and a half. Because of their widespread availability and their distinct looks, they are a favorite amongst many waterfowl hunters.
This article was originally published on February 12, 2022.