Commonly Confused Ducks in Central Florida
Florida is home to a variety of both non-migratory and migratory ducks. Some of the most common species of ducks found in central Florida are mallard ducks, Florida mottled ducks, black-bellied whistling ducks and wood ducks. Keep reading to learn about common ducks in central Florida.
Mallard DucksMallard ducks are one of the most widely recognizable ducks in North America and are quite common in central Florida.
Mallards are a large breed of duck with long, hefty bodies and rounded heads. Their bills are wide and flat. The easiest way to distinguish between male and female mallards is by their head and bill colors. Males in Florida should be showing breeding colors, which are dark green iridescent heads with bright yellow bills. In flight, mallards have broad wings that are set back towards their rear.
Female mallard ducks have mottled brown heads with orange and brown bills. Female mallard ducks looks quite similar to Florida mottled ducks, but have two white bars surrounding a bar of bright blue on their wing. (See photo at left). This area of coloration is known as a speculum. Additionally, female mallard ducks differ from mottled ducks in that the mallard duck has a darker coloration on it’s head and neck feather than the Florida mottled duck. Female mallards and mottled ducks can be challenging to differentiate.
Mallards are able to live in almost any habitat, natural or artificial. Look for them near:
- City and suburban parks
- Residential backyards
Mallard ducks tend to nest on dry land near the water. They tend to hide their nests using overhanging grass and other vegetation. You can sometimes find Mallards nesting in agricultural fields. Mallard ducks breed in the spring. They generally have monogamous pairings that are formed before the breeding season begins. At the end of breeding season, mallards shed all of their feathers used for flight and remain flightless for 3-4 weeks.
Click here to listen to the call of a mallard duck.
Mallard ducks threaten Florida’s native mottled duck
There are a large number of domesticated, non-migratory mallard ducks in Florida. This includes a large number of hybridized species in the mallard family, such as domesticated khaki campbell and indian runner ducks.
Mallard ducks can inter-breed with the native Florida mottled ducks and create fertile hybrid offspring. Florida’s mottled duck is an endemic species which means that it only exists in Florida. According to FWC, “biologists list this hybridization [with mallards] as the biggest immediate threat to the conservation of Florida’s mottled duck.” As a result of this threat, mallard ducks (and fertile hybrids like Khaki campbells, indian runner ducks, etc) are highly regulated in Florida.
- Learn more about differentiating hybrids from our native FL Mottled duck, here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/is-ebird-wordpress-prod-s3/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf
- Learn more about the threat of hybridization to the mottled duck, here: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/waterfowl/hybridization/
- Learn more about the “mallard possession rules” you must follow if you own or are thinking about owning mallard (or fertile hybrids like Khaki campbells, indian runner ducks, etc) here: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/waterfowl/mallard-possession-rule/faqs/
Male mallards who are in Florida outside of breeding season will be very similar to female mallard ducks and Florida mottled ducks in appearance. This feather pattern outside of breeding colors is known as eclipse plumage. If there are mallard ducks in your area, in the summer months, these are non-migratory, feral, domesticated mallard ducks that do not belong in our Florida ecosystems.
In summary, a permit from Florida Fish and Wildlife is required for anyone to possess mallards or their fertile domestic hybrids. Contact FWC’s Captive Wildlife Section with further questions.
Florida Mottled DuckThe Florida mottled duck is one of the only species of ducks in North America that does not migrate. Florida’s mottled duck is an endemic species, meaning it only exists in Florida. Because of this, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has the primary responsibility to manage and protect this species.
The Florida mottled duck is medium in size. The female mottled duck looks very similar to the female mallard but can be distinguished if the colored bar on the wing (the speculum) is observed. The mallard duck has a white bar above and below the blue coloration whereas the Florida mottled duck lacks the white coloration above the blue bar. It is worth noting that the FL mottled duck may have a faint lower bar in some individuals (see example in the photo to the right, by Lee Blumin). Another way to distinguish the two is that the neck and head of a mottled duck are lighter than its body. If you see any white or curled tail feathers, it is a good indication that the duck in question is a hybrid.
It can be difficult to distinguish between a female mallard duck and a female Florida mottled duck from afar. Male mottled ducks have green to yellow bills, and females have orange to brown bills, usually.Florida mottled ducks prefer brackish and freshwater. Look for them in:
- Mosquito impoundments
Florida mottled ducks nest on the ground near the water. They generally conceal their nests in tall grasses or other dense vegetation. Mottled ducks nest from February through July and generally lay 8-10 eggs.
Click here to hear the raspy quack for the Florida mottled duck.
Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks
Black-bellied whistling ducks are large, goose-like ducks with long legs, long necks, and a short tail. They can be identified by their brownish-gray heads with white eye rings and red bills; or by their bright pink feet. Black-bellied whistling ducks can be recognized by their broad wings, hunched back, and long necks when in flight. They also have white wing patches.
Black-bellied whistling often live in or near:
- Along the edges of shallow ponds
- Golf courses
- City parks
- Agricultural fields
Black-bellied whistling ducks are often seen in forested areas or near ponds with good tree cover nearby. This particular species of ducks do not build nests. They prefer to nest in natural tree cavities, like the wood duck, but will also nest in marsh vegetation or in artificial nest boxes.
Click here to hear the black-bellied whistling duck’s call.
Wood ducks are one of Florida’s most beautiful species of duck. They possess boxy, crested heads with long, broad tails. Male wood ducks have chestnut breasts with green heads that are cut with white stripes, while females are gray-brown with white speckled breasts. The female has a distinct white coloration around her eyes, commonly referred to as “eyeliner.”
Both the male and female of the species are easy to identify from afar, with some practice. In flight, wood ducks hold their heads high, sometimes bobbing them. Wood ducks, as their name suggests, typically inhabit wooded, brushy, or other vegetated wetland areas. Look for them near:
- Wooded swamps
- Beaver ponds
- Small lakes
Click here to listen to the call of a wood duck.
For more information on common ducks in central Florida, visit the FWC’s webpage:
If you enjoyed this series and would like to read more about commonly confused plants and animals in Florida, you can find more here:
Originally Published: Sept. 2017
Last Updated: Jul. 2020
This blog post was written by Natural Resources Extension Program Intern, Ms. Paxton Evans, under supervision by Natural Resources and Conservation Extension Agent, Mrs. Shannon Carnevale.
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