Bird Identification

Waterfowl

Mallard

Mallards, or "greenheads," are Missouri's most common duck. Hens have a loud quack; drakes give a lower-pitched kwek-kwek.

Hen

Mallard hen illustration
  • Blue speculum bordered with white
  • Mottled brown body
  • Orange bill

Drake

Mallard drake illustration
  • Blue speculum bordered with white
  • Iridescent green head
  • Dark brown breast

American Black Duck

Male and female black ducks are similar in size, flight, voice, and coloration to mallard hens. To avoid confusion, look for the white underwing and the green-tinted bill.

Drake

American black duck, drake
  • Dark body contrasts with white underwing
  • Green-tinted bill

Northern Pintail

These slender ducks fly fast and often zigzag from great heights before leveling off to land. They may be seen in flocks with mallards. Drakes whistle; hens give a coarse quack.

Hen

Northern pintail hen
  • Long, pointed wings

Drake

Northern pintail drake
  • Long, slender white neck
  • Pointed tail

Gadwall

These early migrants fly in small, compact flocks. They are the only dabbling duck with a white speculum. Note, however, that wigeon drakes have white shoulder patches.

Hen

Galdwall hen illustration
  • Brown body

Drake

Gadwall drake illustration
  • Gray body
  • Black tail
  • White speculum

American Wigeon

The green eyestripe and white belly and shoulder patch helps identify wigeon drakes. Hens are generally brown. Both sexes have stubby bills and slightly pointed tails.

Hen

American wigeon hen illustration
  • Slightly pointed tail
  • Stubby bill

Drake

American wigeon drake illustration
  • Green eyestripe
  • White shoulder patch

Wood Duck

The drake wood duck is Missouri's most colorful duck. While flying, their wings make a rustling, swishing sound. Drakes call hoo-w-ett, often in flight; hens give a wailing cr-r-ekk when frightened.

Hen

Wood duck hen illustration

Drake

Wood duck drake illustration
  • Long square tail
  • Blocky head

Northern Shoveler

The large spoon-shaped bill helps identify this duck. Shovelers often form mixed flocks with blue-winged teal. Both species have pale-blue shoulder patches, but shovelers are larger.

Northern shoveler drake and hen in flight

Hen

  • Large, shovel-shaped bill
  • Pale-blue shoulder patch

Drake

  • Large, shovel-shaped bill
  • Pale-blue shoulder patch

Blue-winged Teal

These swift-flying early migrants are normally far south of Missouri by the time the regular waterfowl season opens. However, a few stragglers may show up throughout the fall.

Blue-winged teal drake and hen in flight

Hen

  • Small size
  • Pale-blue shoulder patch

Drake

  • Small size
  • Pale-blue shoulder patch

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged teal are North America's smallest duck. Their size, rapid flight, and iridescent-green wing patches help identify these ducks.

Hen

Green-winged teal hen in flight
  • Small size

Drake

Green-winged teal drake in flight
  • Small size
  • Iridescent-green speculum

Canvasback

The swiftest of all ducks, the canvasback has a rapid and noisy wingbeat. The bill, lighter coloration, and large size distinguish this duck from the similar-looking redhead.

Canvasback drake and hen in flight

Hen

  • Large, light-colored body

Drake

  • Large, light-colored body
  • Forehead slopes to long, black bill

Redhead

Redheads are most often confused with canvasbacks, but in flight they also look similar to ringnecks and scaup. Note the steep forehead and short, bluish-gray bill.

Redhead drake and hen in flight illustration

Hen

  • Bluish-gray bill

Drake

  • Steep forehead

Hooded Merganser

The rapid wing strokes of hooded mergansers give the impression of great speed. Mergansers are often seen in pairs or very small flocks.

Hen

Hooded merganser hen illustration

Drake

Hooded merganser drake illustration
  • Pointed bill
  • Thin white crest
  • White on trailing edge of wing

Ring-necked Duck (Ringneck)

This diver can be confused with scaup and redheads. In flight, the dark wings of ringnecks are different from the white-edged wings of scaup. The bold white ring at the tip of the bill is usually conspicuous

Hen

Ring-neck hen illustration
  • Bold white ring at tip of bill

Drake

Ring-neck drake illustration
  • Dark wings without white edges
  • Black head

Greater and Lesser Scaup

Except for the wings, greater and lesser scaup appear almost identical in the field. The white band near the trailing edges of the wings runs almost to the wing tip in greater scaup, but only halfway in the lesser. Do not confuse scaup with the similar-looking ring-necked duck.

Greater and lesser scaup drake and hen in flight

Hen

  • White at the base of the bill

Drake

  • White-edged wings
  • Black head

Canada Goose

Canada geese are often called "honkers" because of their distinctive call. The black head and neck, white cheek patch, and brownish-gray body are distinctive.

Canada geese illustration

Characteristics

  • Black head, bill and neck
  • Brownish-gray body
  • White Cheek patch

Snow Goose and Ross's Goose

Snow geese have two color phases: white and blue. Ross's geese appear nearly identical to snow geese, but have a shorter bill with no "grin patch."

Blue phase

Blue snow goose illustration
  • White head and neck
  • Brown back
  • Breast color varies from dark gray to white

White phase

Snow goose illustration
  • Short white neck
  • Gray bill forms "grin patch" where upper and lower portions meet
  • Black tips on white wings
  • White body

Greater White-fronted Goose

White-fronted geese, or "speckle-bellies," fly in V-shaped flocks. Their call is a laugh-like series of high-pitched paired notes. Note: immature white-fronted geese and immature snow geese appear similar. Immature white-fronted geese have pink bills, orange legs, and black tails. Immature snow geese have gray bills, gray legs, and white tails.

White-fronted goose illustration

Characteristics 

  • Pink bill with white base
  • Brown back
  • White underparts with dark patches

Check the Code

This is NOT a legal document. Regulations are subject to revision during the current year.
Refer to the Wildlife Code.