Duck Not? A Guide to Identifying Different Birds that Look Like Ducks



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Birds that resemble certain duck species, including species of dabbling duck and diving duck are not always what they seem. Some even resemble domestic ducks. Despite their similar appearance, these feathered friends come from different families and have unique traits that set them apart from one another.

In this blog post, we will explore the world of birds that look like ducks and provide you with the tools you need to identify them correctly.

American Coot

American Coot

The American coot, a member of the rail family, is a waterbird that inhabits North America and is known for its distinctive appearance and behavior. It is also known as mud hen or marsh hen. With its chunky, round body, yellow legs, dark blackish-gray plumage, and bright white bill, the American coot is a unique bird that is easily recognizable even to novice birdwatchers.

One of the most notable features of the American coot is its red, fleshy forehead, which contrasts starkly with the bird’s dark plumage. This forehead is used by the bird in various displays, including courtship and aggression, and is thought to play a role in regulating the bird’s temperature as well.

The American coot also has large, lobed feet that are well adapted for life on the water, and it uses these feet both for swimming and for walking on soft, marshy ground. American coots feed on wild celery, wild rice, water lilies and cattails.

These medium-sized water birds can be seen all year in the wetland environments along the southwest and the Pacific coast, and they can be spotted in more northeastern areas during the summer breeding season. They migrate between southwest United States and Central America.

Pied-Billed Grebe

The pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is a small, stocky waterbird found in freshwater habitats across North and South America. This beautiful bird is easily recognizable by its distinctive bill, partially covered in a pale yellow ring.

The pied-billed grebe’s plumage is dark and mottled, providing excellent camouflage when floating or diving.

This pied-billed grebe can dive and swim underwater in search of food and can often be seen floating low in the water’s surface with just its head and neck visible like a dabbling duck.

During the nesting season, male pied-billed grebes show an elaborate courtship dance in which it swims in circles, dips its head, and makes various calls.

Despite its adaptability and ability to thrive in various habitats, the pied-Billed Grebe population has recently declined due to habitat loss and degradation. However, conservation efforts are underway to protect and preserve this unique and fascinating bird species.

Brown Pelican

The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), a member of the pelican family, is a large aquatic bird in coastal areas throughout the Americas. It has a distinctive brownish-gray plumage, a white head and neck, and a long, heavy bill. Its wingspan can reach up to seven feet, making it one of the largest birds in North America.

These water birds feed primarily on fish and small aquatic creatures, which it catches by diving from the air and scooping them up with its bill.

The brown pelican lives in large flocks in coastal areas. It nests in large colonies, usually on islands or coastal cliffs. It can be seen along the Pacific coast of British Columbia and the Atlantic coast of New Jersey.

Western Grebe

The western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) is a sleek and elegant bird of the water known for its distinctive courtship dance. It cuts a striking figure on many lakes and ponds with its long neck, yellow bill, and iridescent black and white plumage.

During the mating season, the birds perform an elaborate dance in which they run across the water, tossing their heads and flaunting their feathers. This dance is believed to be a way for the birds to establish dominance and attract mates. When not breeding, western grebes are solitary birds, diving for fish and other small prey.

Common Loon

The common loon (Gavia immer), also known as great northern divers, with its distinctive black-and-white checkered back and haunting wail, is a bird of a different feather. Known for its solitary nature and elusive behavior, the common loon inhabits the remote and pristine lakes of the northern hemisphere, where it spends most of its life. Its appearance resembles many sea ducks.

A true waterbird, the common loon, is a master of diving and swimming, using its strong legs and feet to propel itself beneath the surface in pursuit of fish and other aquatic prey. With its compact body and dense bones, the loon is well-suited for its aquatic lifestyle, able to change its buoyancy at will and perform death-defying dives that can take it as deep as 200 feet below the surface.

The common loon is also known for its striking appearance, with its glossy black head, neck, and back contrasting dramatically with its white underparts. During the breeding season, the loon’s neck and head take on a distinctive plumage, with black and white stripes adding even more contrast to the bird’s already striking appearance.

American White Pelican

The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of the largest birds in North America, with a height of 4 to 5 feet and a wingspan of 9 to 11 feet.

The American white pelican is known for its distinctive appearance. Its body is covered in pure white feathers with black tips on its wings, while its head is topped with an enormous orange bill. This bill is used to scoop up fish such as yellow perch, the bird’s primary food source. The large bird also has webbed feet, which it uses to paddle and maneuver through the water and assist in diving.

The American white pelican are voracious eaters, each bird eats more than 4 pounds of fish a day.

These migratory birds fly to warmer climates in the winter and returning to their breeding grounds in the spring. The bird’s habitat is primarily around lakes, rivers, of inland North America and coastal regions, where it can find ample food and nesting sites. During breeding, they gather in large colonies, where they mate and lay their eggs.

Common Moorhen

The common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), also known as the swamp chicken or water hen, is a stocky bird with a distinctive appearance. The secretive bird is characterized by its black head and neck, contrasting sharply with its glossy, greenish-black back and wings. Its underbelly is white, and has a bright red shield on its forehead. Its legs and feet are also red, adding to its striking appearance.

The common moorhen is typically found near water sources, including swamps, marshes, and ponds. It is an omnivorous bird that feeds on various aquatic plants, insects, and small aquatic animals. It dives into the water for food, and its buoyant, broad feet and partially webbed toes allow it to swim easily.

The common moorhen is known for its aggressive behavior towards other birds and other animals, especially during the breeding season, when it fiercely defends its nests and young.

Horned Grebe

The horned grebe (Podiceps auritus) is a small waterbird native to the northern hemisphere. It has a distinctive, horn-like tuft of feathers on its head that give it its common name. These tufts are elongated feathers raised during courtship displays, giving this striking bird a unique and memorable appearance.

The bird’s plumage is equally distinctive. It has a rich, dark brown back, a white belly and flanks, and a striking, rust-colored neck. Its long, slender bill is black, and its eyes are dark and piercing, giving the bird a serious and determined appearance.

The horned grebe breeds in marine habitats, freshwater lakes, marshes, and ponds, where it builds a floating nest out of plant material. In winter, it migrates to coastal waters, feeding on small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. Like diving ducks, it is an excellent diver and swimmer and is often seen diving to great depths to pursue its prey.

It is common in western China, northern Europe and North America.

Double-Crested Cormorant

The double-crested cormorant (Nannopterum auritum), a sleek and slender waterbird, is a common sight along coasts and on large bodies of water throughout North America. With its long, hooked bill, shiny black plumage, yellow throat patch and distinctive, low-slung posture, this species is often called the “black vulture of the sea.”

Double-crested cormorants are excellent divers, using their powerful wings and webbed feet for swimming deep below the surface in search of fish. They are also highly social, breeding and roosting in large colonies and fishing cooperatively in groups.

This water bird inhabits many habitats, from rocky coasts and islands to large, open-water bodies.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is a migratory bird native to North America and can be found in various habitats, including parks, lakes, and urban areas. It is one of the most recognizable birds in North America, with its distinctive black head, white cheek patches, and long, broad wingspan.

The Canadian goose is a large bird with an average length of approximately 70-100 cm and a wingspan of approximately 150-180 cm. It has a large, round body covered in dense, waterproof feathers, which serve to insulate the bird from the cold and protect it from the elements. The feathers of the Canada geese are primarily brown or gray, with a lighter underbelly and legs.

The Canadian goose is an herbivore and feeds primarily on aquatic vegetation, grasses, and grains. It also has a habit of feeding in large flocks of other waterbirds, which helps to protect it from predators. These aquatic birds are also known for their aggressive behavior, especially when defending their nest or young.

During the breeding season, the Canada goose pairs off into monogamous relationships and builds a nest on the ground near water. The female will lay a clutch of 2-8 eggs, which both parents will incubate for approximately 25-28 days. Once the goslings hatch, both parents fiercely defend their young and lead them to water sources to feed.

Along with the cackling goose, Canada geese are often mistaken for ducks.

Key Takeaways on Birds That Look Like Ducks

  • The American Coot is a waterbird that inhabits North America and has distinctive features such as its chunky, round body, dark blackish-gray plumage and white, scoop-shaped bill.
  • The Pied-billed Grebe is a small stocky bird found in freshwater habitats across North and South America with a partially covered yellow ring around its bill.
  • The Brown Pelican is an aquatic bird found in coastal areas throughout the Americas with brownish gray plumage, white head & neck & long heavy bill.

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