Saltwater Ducks of the Pacific Lowlands


Click on a picture below or scroll to see species account

Red-breasted Merganser Surf Scoter Barrows Goldeneye Common Goldeneye Bufflehead
Scaup Greater and Lesser Common Merganser Northern Pintail Green-winged Teal  



Red-Breasted Merganser  Mergus serrator

How to Identify it: black head with ragged crest, long slender bill,  white ring below neck.

This is a common winter migrant along nearshore marine waters, found in protected bays and estuaries. This attractive duck can occasionally be found in fresh water but this is not common.  They arrive in September and are usually gone by the end of April. They are fish eaters and take small fish such as blennies and sometimes dozens will congregate around schools of herring.


Surf Scoter  Melanitta perspicillata

How to Identify it: Black duck with white patch on the back of the neck and above the eye. Bill is reddish and also has a white spot.

This is a duck of nearshore marine waters, sometimes found in flocks of several  hundred. They are diving birds and eat  crustaceans and mollusks which they somehow break apart with their bills.  In the spring they feed on herring eggs which are lain in eel grass and so hundreds of these birds will migrate to those habitats starting in late January. 


Barrows Goldeneye   Bucephala islandica

How to Identify it: Black head and back, white bodied duck with crescent shaped spot just behind bill and bold white markings on its wings.

This is a diving duck found in the winter in nearshore  marine waters and occasionally in larger river systems.  It feeds on crustaceans sometimes pulling them off dock pilings exposed at low tide.  This attractive duck may be found in large mid to high elevation alpine lakes and reservoirs in the Cascades in the summer where it nests.  Nests are typically in a cavity in a large tree close to the lake shore and young can be found swimming about with parent birds in August.  If trees are not available for nests it may use rocky outcrops. 


Common Goldeneye   Bucephala clangula

How to Identify it: Black back, white bodied duck with round spot just behind bill.

This is a winter migrant found on lakes and  rivers, also in estuaries and nearshore marine waters. It is a diving duck, feeding on insects along the bottom in fresh water, also crustaceans and mollusks in salt water.  It arrives in Octoberand most are gone by mid April.  There a few which stick around until May and are sometimes seen in mountain lakes.

Bufflehead   Bucephala albeola

How to Identify it:  A small  duck, the black and white body and white mark on the head is distinctive.

This small but easy to notice duck begins to arrive in September, preferring lakes and ponds with lots of insects. It is a diving duck and will disappear under the water then pop up considerable distance away.  It is found in both fresh and salt water situations and can be found as late as May.  In February pair bonding behavior begins, and by late March and April groups of males and females display lively antics including head bobbing , splashing and diving. Females have a brown head with a small white slash on the cheek.


Scaup, Lesser and Greater   Aythya affinis, Aythya marila

How to Identify it: Dark head and chest, light grayish body, dark rear end.

There are two species of scaup and they are distinguished by the subtle shape of the head. Lesser scaups are more often found in fresh water and greater scaups are more often found in salt water or brackish estuaries but this is not definitive. Both are winter migrants and can be found in either fresh or nearshore marine waters and estuaries. They are diving ducks and feed on small aquatic insects.  They arrive in October and are usually gone by mid-April.

Common Merganser   Mergus merganser

How to Identify it:  Large duck, narrow red bill, black head and back, white body

This large  white and black duck is a fish eater, and is often seen in winter groups on lakes and rivers, and also nearshore marine waters. It is mostly a winter migrant but there are some resident breeding birds, with groups of ducklings following a female seen along rivers and  lakes in June.  It readily dives to capture small fish and sometimes it can be seen struggling to swallow a fish, tossing its head vertical in an attempt to swallow its wriggly lunch.  Female birds have a brown head and sport a shaggy crest of feather on top of their heads.

Northern Pintail   Anas acuta

How to Identify it:  Chocolate brown head on a long white neck, long black tail feathers.

This is a winter duck, and most often found in wetlands and tidal estuaries, sometimes in large numbers.  It feeds on seeds and vegetation and sometimes forages in flooded fields or agricultural land adjacent to wetlands.  They arrive in October and most are gone by the end of March.

Green-winged Teal   Anas crecca

How to Identify it: Red head with green mask, gray sides with white slash on side  behind the head.

This is one of the earliest arriving winter migrants, sometimes showing up as early as August in tidal wetlands. It feeds on the seeds of water plants and so large numbers congregate in areas with appropriate plants often moving once the food resources are depleted.  This attractive little duck sometimes can be found as late as May.