Three black belly whistling ducks walking near water

Common 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, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Malene

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, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Malene

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.

Important note about Mallard ducks in Florida

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. Male mallards who are in Florida outside of breeding season will be very similar to female mallard ducks and Florida mallard 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.

Since mallard ducks can inter-breed with Florida mottled ducks and create fertile hybrid offspring, they threaten Florida’s native mottled duck. Florida’s mottled duck is an endemic species, meaning it only exists in Florida. According to FWC’s literature, “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.

In short, a permit is required in order 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 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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, but can 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. 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. 

Florida mottled duck, Male

By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (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 Duck in Flight

By Fl295 at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Black-bellied whistling ducks were first found to be in Florida in 1968. They are large, goose-like ducks with long legs, long necks, and a short tail. Black-bellied whistling ducks can be identified by their red bills and pink feet. They have brownish-gray heads with white eye rings. They also possess white wing patches. Black-bellied whistling ducks can be recognized by their broad wings, hunched back, and long necks when in flight.

Black-bellied whistling often live in or near:

  • Along the edges of shallow ponds
  • Golf courses
  • City parks
  • Schoolyards
  • Agricultural fields

This particular species of ducks do not build nests. They tend to nest in marshes inside of thickets or the hollows of various trees, 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 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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:
http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/waterfowl/

 

Sources:

 

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.

10 Comments on “Common 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: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/polk/natural-resources-and-conservation/
      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: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/uw/uw19300.pdf 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: https://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/regional-offices/
      I hope you have found this helpful and I hope to receive an email photo of your little neighbor soon!

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