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Three black belly whistling ducks walking near water

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 Ducks

Mallard duck swimming in Florida lake

A male mallard duck swimming. Photo by blarrggg (originally posted to Flickr as Plain ol’ Duck) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mallard 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.

A female mallard duck with its wing outstretched, displaying the blue speculum bar surrounded by two white bars above and below. Photo by: Malene Thyssen,

A female mallard duck with its wing outstretched, displaying the blue speculum bar surrounded by two white bars above and below. Photo by: Malene Thyssen,

Mallards are able to live in almost any habitat, natural or artificial. Look for them near:

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Ponds
  • Marshes
  • 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.

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 Duck

Mottled Duck Female, photographed in southwest Florida.

Len Blumin from Mill Valley, California, United States [CC BY 2.0 (]

The 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 duck, Male

By DickDaniels ( (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Florida mottled ducks prefer brackish and freshwater. Look for them in:

  • Marshes
  • Ponds
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Canals
  • Ditches
  • 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 with ducklings

Donald Hobern from Copenhagen, Denmark / CC BY (

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
  • Schoolyards
  • 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 Duck

Male wood duck swimming in the water.

Photo by Dennis Buchner on Unsplash

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
  • Marshes
  • Streams
  • Beaver ponds
  • Small lakes

A female (left) and male (right) pair of wood ducks on a dock in Winter Haven, FL. Photo by: Floodmfx [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

A female (left) and male (right) pair of wood ducks on a dock in Winter Haven, FL. Photo by: Floodmfx [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Wood ducks nest inside of cavities inside of trees. However, these cavities are not always common, and wood ducks often nest inside of artificial nesting boxes that have been provided for them. Female wood ducks tend to lay 10-11 eggs per clutch. They have a long nesting season that lasts from late January through August.


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.

University of Florida IFAS Extension is committed to diversity of people, thought and opinion, to inclusiveness and to equal opportunity.
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution. 

18 Comments on “Commonly Confused Ducks in Central Florida

  1. I have a picture of ‘ducks in as row’ and curious od the specific dock. Can I send it for evaluation?

  2. Do you have recommendtions for types of native Florida grasses or plants that could provide a habitat for the ducks. We live on a pond that has about 80 ducks, mostly molted, but also Whistling and Mallards. There are also heron, egrets, wood storks, sandhills and migrating pelicans twice a year. Thanks.

  3. Which ducks have the red bumpy areas on the front of their heads? I’m in St Pete. We used to have regular mallards here, but now the males that have come in with the females don’t have green heads, but instead are twice as large with the red bumps.

    Thank you for any info!

  4. A duck showed up on our front porch one day and continues to live in our back yard. Are there any restrictions for keeping a duck on your property? Also hoping you might be able to tell me what type of duck she is. She has a light brown/ tan head , black beak. Brown and white body feathers and orange feet.

    • Hi Denise,
      This is a complicated question to answer in a blog post, so I will do my best. I cannot identify any plant or wildlife via description alone as it would be irresponsible. If you get a clear photo, I’m happy to take a look. You can email it to me at the contact information here:
      For the rules and restrictions, it’s complicated. As a wild animal, you should not be feeding it or approaching it. While feeding ducks is not illegal in Florida, it is generally bad for their health and nutrition. For that reason, I strongly recommend against it. If you have questions about this, consider reading this publication: or shooting me an email with some questions.
      If a duck chooses to nest or live next to, under, or near your porch, but you are not actively containing the duck with a fence or cage, it is still a wild animal and can continue what it’s doing with your blessing. Generally speaking, this would not be considered “keeping a duck” on your property. If you have prevented the duck from leaving your property, thereby placing it into captivity, yes – there are many restrictions, permits, and laws to consider. I encourage you to reach out to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more information:
      I hope you have found this helpful and I hope to receive an email photo of your little neighbor soon!

  5. We had a family of ducks this spring living on the shore of our lake. There were 4 brown and 2 white. Are they all from the same family? I can’t find any information about white ducks in florida. From everything I read, I believe they were Mottled Ducks.
    Thank you!

    • Good morning Annette,
      This is a great question but I can only provide a partial answer without photos.
      Florida does not have any native duck species that are all white in color, excepting for unusual plumage patterns caused by albinism or leucism. Generally speaking, white ducks in Florida are a result of hybridization with feral or domestic ducks like “pekin” ducks or muscovy ducks. Other common hybrids in Florida are between feral mallard ducks and Florida mottled ducks, but they are not white in color.
      To complicate matters, some duck species will sneakily lay their eggs in another mother duck’s nest, to trick her into raising the ducklings. It is possible that this is one family of ducks, but it is also possible that this is a mixed family due to “Brood Parasitism.” This nesting strategy is fascinating and can even result in birds raising young that aren’t even of their species! See this interesting article from National Geographic, about a wood duckling and an eastern screech owl mama, here: This is likely much more rare than one duck relying on another duck to host it’s young, but it is interesting nonetheless.
      With photos, I may be able to provide additional information on your lakefront family of ducks.
      Please feel free to email me, using the contact information here: OR, contact Florida Fish and Wildlife, here:

  6. We wonder why some 30 ducks for the summer have left the nearby pond here in Sarasota. Surely they’re not migrating (?). — Albert Weeks

    • Hi Al,
      Unfortunately, it can be hard to explain why wildlife do the things they do. Wildlife regularly move and explore different areas depending on the habitat need they are trying to fulfill. It could be seasonality and migration when the temperatures warmed up, it could be threatening predator (wildlife or human), or it could just be that they decided to check out a different part of town for awhile.
      Your local Extension office, in Sarasota County, might have an answer specific to your area. You can find their contact information here:

  7. It seems that we have mottled ducks and mallards interbreeding frequently in our Tampa neighborhood; the resulting next generation are everything from what look like male mallards lacking the brilliant head/neck colors, to females with characteristics of both species. Recently a muscovy had a clutch which included 2 males that, when matured, were an unusual but beautiful liver brown color. Is this type of cross-breeding common?

    • Good morning Kathy,
      Fantastic observation and great questions! Unfortunately, yes this is a real problem for Florida Ducks. Both feral mallards and muscovy ducks are harmful to our native Florida mottled duck and our other native waterfowl species.
      Mallards, naturally, should migrate north prior to the mottled duck breeding season but feral mallards that do not know how to migrate can and often do, breed with our endemic mottled duck. Endemic means a species that is native to only one area or ecosystem, worldwide, and as such, is a naturally rare species. Hybridization of that species with feral mallards is a real risk to the mottled duck’s long term existence. From Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Every mallard released in Florida can potentially contribute to the hybridization problem and the result is that fewer and fewer pure-bred Florida mottled ducks are left each year. An estimated 7 to 12 percent of mottled ducks are already exhibiting genetic evidence of hybridization and biologists list this hybridization as the biggest immediate threat to the conservation of Florida’s mottled duck.” You can read more about this, here:
      Muscovy ducks are an invasive species (nonnative species causing harm to native species) in Florida, that originally escaped from captivity or were released intentionally. These nuisance ducks are concerning because their populations increase quickly and they can and do spread disease to and interbreed with our native duck species. You can learn more about them, here:

  8. What is the name of the duck you showcase on entering your site: brown with gray head and bright orange beak?