ring-neck duck pair

25 Ducks in Kansas – A Guide with ID, Tips, and Photos

This is a listing of 25 ducks that can be found in Kansas. 

Ducks are classified as waterfowl. This group includes geese, swans, grebes, loons, and cormorants. Some ducks are seen year-round while some are seasonal, and some are rarities just passing through. No matter when you find them, ducks are beautiful and are fun to watch, photograph, or hunt.

Like the rest of the bird world, the male ducks show off their beautiful plumage in the breeding season. Male ducks are called Drakes, and females are Hens.

For more birdwatching in Kansas see our articles on backyard birds, owls, hawks, and woodpeckers.

Kinds of Ducks

“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!” That’s mostly true, but not all ducks look alike and some don’t quack. They are typically divided into groups by their feeding habits:

Dabbling Ducks are mostly found in fresh water and can be identified as dabblers by their habit of tipping their heads down and butts up when they feed in shallow waters. If their asses are in the air; they are dabbling ducks. Dabbling Ducks are the proverbial puddle ducks found in small ponds.

Diving ducks will get themselves wet all at the same time. You can find these ducks in freshwater, saltwater, and brackish water, on lakes, streams, bays, and inlets.

Sea ducks are saltwater diving ducks. They can stay down for longer and dive far deeper than any of the freshwater divers. Most live on the open ocean or offshore islands during the summer and come into the coastal or other open waters in winter.

There are many variables among these three groups. Evolution has created ducks individually suited to survive in varied habitats: some eat aquatic plants and some eat fish. Some prefer warm water and others like the cold. One species likes tranquil, calm waters while another thrives in rocky, turbulent waters. 

This is just a quick guide to the ducks usually found in Kansas, with some rarities that have been seen in the recent past.

Dabbling Ducks

1. Mallard 

Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos      Size: 23 inches

The most common duck found in North America is the Mallard.

Male Mallards have distinctive iridescent green heads, white neck rings, brown breasts, and pale bodies while the females are all brown. Both have bright orange feet.

Mallards have blue wing patches, called a speculum, mostly seen in flight but which can occasionally be observed when the ducks are going about their other doings.

These ducks are the quintessential dabbling duck. They eat seeds that have fallen to the bottom of shallow ponds, nest on the ground on dry land, and quack.

Genetically, Mallards will cross with other wild duck species (like American Black Duck, Mexican, Mottled, and wild Muscovy) and ducks such as Domestic Mallards, Domestic Muscovy, Pekin, and other barnyard breeds. 

These hybrids may end up looking like a Mallard, something resembling a Mallard – or nothing at all like a Mallard. Identifying Mallard hybrids is sometimes difficult, so when in doubt, if you can get a photo of the bird, do it.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Mallards are opportunists and love to swim in your pool, uncovered or covered (if there’s standing water on your cover). They also like lawn sprinklers.

If you live near any water source, be on the lookout for Mom Mallard leading her little ones back to the pond.

!!! Going down to the local pond to feed the ducks? No bread, please! Bread has absolutely no nutritional value for waterfowl, and causes a disease known as “Angel Wing”, which prevents the birds from flying and makes them a “sitting duck” for predators.

Bring them cracked corn or commercial duck feed instead. The Mallards and other waterfowl will thank you for it.


2. American Black Duck

American Black duck male and female pair

Scientific Name: Anas rubripes                                  Size: 23 inches

American Black Duck resemble female Mallards, but they are slightly smaller and their feathers and eye stripes are darker than those found on the female Mallard. They have grayish bills and orange legs and feet. 

The American Black Duck has a darker head than the female Mallard, a sort of cap that once you see them a few times and become more familiar with the Black Duck, makes picking them out from the female Mallards easier. 

These ducks show a purple-blue speculum, as opposed to the Mallard’s blue patch. 

Since American Black Ducks cross easily with the Mallard, many hybrids exist. And like Mallards, American Black Ducks quack. They are ground nesters and seed eaters but they also like some animal proteins mixed in.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The American Black Duck was the model for Daffy Duck (he’s black, but they’re not).


3. Wood Duck 

Wood duck male and female

Scientific Name: Aix sponsa          Size: 18.5 inches

Striking, small, compact ducks that are seen in pairs or solo, but seldom in big flocks. They are usually found on quiet lakes, ponds, and streams.

In Kansas, Wood Ducks are usually year-round residents.

Male Wood Ducks are beautifully colored, with an iridescent green head, cinnamon body, red eyes, bold white markings, and a slightly domed head. Female Wood Ducks are brown with distinctive white eyeliner markings on their face. Both have a slightly longer tail.

Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities and man-made nest boxes above the ground to keep their young secure from predators.

Interesting Facts & Notes

When they are ready to leave the nest, the young Wood Ducks take a leap of faith – they jump out of their nest, hit the ground, and waddle off in search of water. 

Wood Ducks are one of two duck species found in the US with distinctive striping. The other is the Harlequin Duck, a beautiful little sea duck with slate blue and russet plumage blocked off by white stripes. The striping may be all they have in common – while Wood Ducks choose quiet little ponds to call home, the Harlequins are the daredevils of the duck world – they like fast-running water with plenty of rocks to dive among. 


4. American Wigeon 

Scientific Name: Mareca americana         Size: 20 inches

The American Wigeon is a squat duck with a pinkish-brown body and a small bill.

Males have a white or buffy stripe on their foreheads and an iridescent green splash starting behind the eye. The female has a dull gray head. While the female American Wigeons have a husky-sounding quack, the males whistle. This is a duck you will hear before you see it.

American Wigeons feed on pond vegetation like most dabbling ducks and are ground nesters.

Interesting Facts & Notes

An old name for the American Wigeon was “Baldpate” because it was thought that the white stripe on the males resembled an old man’s bald head.

If you see an American Wigeon with a rufous head and a buff-colored forehead stripe, it may be a cousin from across the ocean, the Eurasian Wigeon. Eurasian Wigeons turn up occasionally as rare winter visitors among the groups of their American Wigeon relatives.


5. Gadwall

Gadwall duck pair

Scientific Name: Anas strepera                  Size: 20 inches

A stocky duck with a rather subdued gray-brown plumage and yellow feet, Gadwalls are usually found in Kansas during migration.

Male Gadwalls have black feathers on their rumps in the breeding season. If you see a dull brown duck with a black butt, it has to be a male Gadwall. And when you find the ducks with the black butts, the less flashy brown females near them are likely female Gadwalls.

Like most dabbling ducks, Gadwall are ground nesters. They eat aquatic plants and small invertebrates from the bottoms of ponds.  

Interesting Facts & Notes

Gregarious ducks, Gadwalls like to hang out with other duck species, especially American Wigeon. You can find them in the crowd by looking for the male’s black rump.


6. Northern Pintail 

Northern Pintail duck pair

Scientific Name: Anas acuta                        Size: 21 inches

A slender, elegant dabbling duck with a very long tail and neck and a sleek, clean look. 

If a duck was going to attend a formal affair, it’d look like a Northern Pintail. All they would need to dress up is a bow tie for the male and a string of pearls for the female.

The male has a brown head with a black bill, a long white neck and breast, and a gray body while the female is dull buffy brown with a gray bill. Northern Pintails have a bronze or dark brown speculum that shows when they are on the wing.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Northern Pintails are called “Greyhound of the Air” due to their long, slender, streamlined flight profile.


7. Northern Shoveler 

Northern Shoveler ducks

Scientific Name: Anas clypeata                                  Size: 19 inches

No other duck looks like a Northern Shoveler – a large dabbling duck with an unmistakable long, spoon-shaped bill.

The males have an iridescent green head, chestnut sides and bellies, and a white chest, breast, and rump. Female Northern Shovelers are speckled brown.    

The characteristic feature of the Northern Shoveler is its spoon-shaped bill, which is dark gray (black in breeding season) in the male and olive and light orange in the female. Shovelers use their broad bills to filter seeds, invertebrates, aquatic insects, and small mollusks and crustaceans from the mud.

Northern Shovelers are ground nesters. The female voice is a short, deep quack. Males are more nasal.

Interesting Facts & Notes

No other dabbling duck has a bill as long as a Northern Shoveler. The chestnut and white pattern on the side of the male Shoveler is distinctive and a main focal point even before you spot the bill.

Northern Shovelers also work together, swimming in circles to stir up any seeds and weeds that will float to the surface, sometimes with their heads underwater to blow bubbles, and then eating what arises.


8. Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged duck male and female

Scientific Name: Anas discors                     Size: 15.5 inches

A small, slender duck with beautiful male breeding plumage. In Kansas, they are only seen during spring and fall migration. Look for them in shallow water, close to the shoreline.

The males have a characteristic white crescent on their face, dark blue head, dark bill, and white hip patch on a dark mottled brown body; the mottled brown female has a dark eye stripe and a white patch on her face close to the bill.

When in flight, they can be identified by their sky-pale blue secondary feathers and iridescent green speculum. Their flight profile is small, slender, and fast.

Teals are ground nesters. Female Blue-winged Teals have a harsh, squeaky nasal quack while male Teals have a high-pitched whistle.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Blue-winged Teals prefer shallow marshy ponds and mudflats and like to be close to edges, where they can pick out seeds and other vegetation.


9. Green-winged Teal

green-winged teal duck

Scientific Name: Anas crecca                      Size: 14 inches

Mostly seen during spring and fall migration, and occasionally during the rest of the year, these beautiful small birds are the littlest dabbling ducks and have short necks and slender, short bills. Green-winged Teal can be easily identified in all plumages by their size. 

The breeding male sports a rufous head with a bright iridescent green splash starting at the eye. He has a white vertical bar on his shoulder against a light grayish body and a pinkish-brown breast.

Females look like little female Mallards, with grey legs and feet, a darker head, and a dark eye line.

In flight, Green-winged Teal shows a green speculum. They are fast flyers with quick wingbeats.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The Green-winged Teal is a really small duck. It’s the tiniest duck on the pond, easily picked out even when in a large mixed flock.


10. Cinnamon Teal

Scientific name: Spatula cyanoptera Size: 14 to 17 inches

The Cinnamon Teal stands out among other ducks. Breeding males are reddish-brown or rust-colored overall with black bills, red eyes, and a sky-blue speculum. Their backs are dark with lighter feather edges.  Females and non-breeding males are brown with dark eyes and black bills. Their backs are a darker brown than their bodies, and their back feathers are edged in cream or white.

Cinnamon Teals are found in shallow freshwater wetlands. Look for them in marshes, flooded fields, ponds, slow-moving streams, and even water-filled ditches.

Their flight profile clearly shows the powder blue shoulder and green secondary feathers, making them an easier identification on the wing than many other ducks.

Interesting Facts & Notes

A wetland species, the Cinnamon Teal population has declined due to habitat loss. 

Another issue is that Cinnamon Teals are more susceptible to contaminates from agricultural runoff and human intrusion into their habitat.


Diving Ducks

11. Ring-necked Duck

ring-neck duck pair

Scientific Name: Aythya collatis                 Size: 17 inches

A medium-sized diving duck found in freshwater; the Ring-necked Duck is one of the common migrants in Kansas, seen in fall and winter.

The male has a black head with a noticeable “bump” towards the top, a black back and rump, a light gray body, and a white vertical splash between the body and the breast. A white stripe is between his head and a light gray bill with a black tip.

There is a ring around the Ring-necked Duck, but it is brown and very hard to see from a distance.

The female’s back is a medium-gray over a light brown body. She has a white eye ring and a white spot between her head and her bill is the same as the male.

The Ring-necked Duck likes to nest in woody-edged marshes. They eat mostly aquatic plants, along with clams and snails.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Ring-necked Ducks look a lot like Lesser and Greater Scaup. See Interesting Facts & Notes on the Greater Scaup to find some tips on telling these birds apart.


12. Lesser Scaup

lesser scaup ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya affinis                   Size: 16.5 inches

Diving ducks that are found in freshwater ponds, lakes, and reservoirs, Lesser Scaups look similar to Ring-necked Ducks and are sometimes hard to pick out in a mixed flock.

The male has a black head (which may show a purplish iridescence in certain light), neck, and breast like the Ring-necked Duck, but his back is light gray barring, a larger proportion of white body, and a larger black rear. He has a blue bill but no white strip between the bill and his head.

Females, however, have a white crescent around their bills, dark-brown heads, necks, and breasts, brown-gray bodies, and darker brown backs. The Lesser Scaup has a sort of square-top head.

They like to nest near lakes and ponds in marsh-like vegetation. Lesser Scaups feed on clams and other marine prey when in saltwater and vegetation when in fresh water.

In Kansas, Lesser Scaups are seen during migration.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Identification tips for all three of these similar-looking birds can be found in the Interesting Facts & Notes section under Greater Scaup.


13. Greater Scaup

greater scaup ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya marila                  Size: 18 inches

These diving ducks are found on lakes and large bodies of water and often in large numbers. Greater Scaups are seen in Kansas during winter months.

The male has a black head (which may show a greenish iridescence in certain light), neck, and breast, like the Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup, but his back has light gray barring on top of a white body and a larger black rump. He has a blue bill but no white strip between the bill and his head.

The female has a white crescent around her bill, a dark-brown head, neck, and breast, a brown-gray body, and a darker brown back.

If this sounds similar to the duck listed above, it is. There is not much difference between Lesser and Greater Scaup, so it’s hard to tell them apart.

Greater Scaup have rounded heads; from certain angles, it almost looks like they are slouching. Even this doesn’t help much when trying to make an identification, but hopefully, our Interesting Facts & Notes section will help.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Greater Scaup can be found on the same body of water,  sometimes in mixed or large flocks, making their identification difficult. These are probably the most confusing species of ducks you’ll have to identify (Female Mallard, Mottled, and Mexican are the others).

The male Ring-necked Duck has a black back, a black tip on its bill, and a white stripe between its face and bill. The females have white eye rings.

When seen in good light, the male Lesser Scaup has a light gray back, no black tip on the bill, and a squarish black head with a purplish iridescence. The female Lesser Scaup has no white eye ring.

The Greater Scaup has a rounded black head with green iridescence and a slightly lighter gray back than the Lesser Scaup. The female has a lighter brown back.

Usually, Greater Scaup is greater in salt water, Lesser Scaup is greater than Greater Scaup in fresh water, and Ring-necked is greater than Lesser and Greater Scaup in fresh water. 

Still confused? Don’t feel bad – even the seasoned birder has a hard time with this group, especially with the two Scaup species. That’s why there’s a box for “Scaup species” on most state checklists and eBird.


14. Ruddy Duck

ruddy ducks male and female

Scientific Name: Oxyura jamaicensis                        Size: 15 inches

Small, stocky, large-headed duck with a stiff, cocked-up tail. Ruddy Ducks are year-round residents of Kansas.

Male Ruddy Ducks have a black cap on their heads, white cheeks, rufous bodies, and blue bills in full breeding plumage; non-breeding males still have distinctive white cheeks and black caps over a brownish-gray body.

Female Ruddy Ducks look like the non-breeding males but with a brown cap and a white cheek and have a brown horizontal stripe across it.

Their tails are stiff and spiky and stand up when they are swimming. Their small, compact silhouette looks like a rubber duck, and they float like rubber ducks in a tub.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Serious night feeders, Ruddy Duck can often be found napping with their heads tucked in and their tails straight up during the day.


15. Canvasback

Canvasback duck

Scientific Name: Aythya valisineria                           Size: 21 inches

A large duck with a sloping head, a long, tapering black bill, red eyes, and a long neck. Canvasbacks are winter visitors to Kansas.

The male has a chestnut-red head and neck and black breast on a white body in full breeding plumage (light grayish brown in non-breeding season) while female heads are light brown in the breeding season.

The Canvasback has a Roman profile that makes it stand out among the diving ducks, except for the Eiders.

Canvasbacks like to nest on small ponds. In mating season, the male Canvasback makes a kind of weird hooting to attract his mate.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The Canvasback is one of the largest diving ducks and has a memorable silhouette, making it identifiable when viewed in bad lighting.


16. Redhead

Redhead ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya americana Size: 19 to 20 inches

The Redhead is a beautiful, eye-catching diving duck. Seeing them in full sunlight shows just how stunning their plumage is, and makes them easy to spot among big mixed flocks.

The male Redhead has a bright rufous head, a blue bill with a black tip, a gray body with a slightly rounded back, and a black chest and rump.

The female Redhead is a duller brown with a bluish-gray bill, with the same rounded head and body as the male. 

Redhead ducks feed on seeds, aquatic weeds, water lilies, grasses, and wild rice. They also go for mollusks, aquatic insects, and small fish.

Interesting Facts & Notes

These ducks are social and are usually found on lakes and bays in the company of other species like Ring-neck Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, and Canvasback.


17. Bufflehead

bufflehead ducks

Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola                                        Size: 13 to 16 inches

Buffleheads are small diving ducks found in fresh and saltwater during winter.

Male Buffleheads have a large white patch on the back of their head, white body, and black back. The female is mostly grey and black with a white splash on the cheek

They stay together in small groups and are often seen cruising along in a flotilla.

Buffleheads are cavity nesters. Their diet is mostly mollusks, crustaceans, and insect larvae.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Buffleheads appear like the proverbial rubber duck, bobbing up and down on the water. Notice that when they dive, there is always a single sentinel or a group that stays on top to look for signs of danger relative to the size of the group that’s underwater. 

This can make them hard to count when doing a survey or even your own – 10 on top and 8 went down but now 2 came up and 5 went down??? Frustrating, but they are fun to watch! 


18. Common Goldeneye

Scientific Name: Bucephela clangula                       Size: 18.5 inches

Diving ducks with noticeable golden eyes and white cheek patches are seen on freshwater during Kansas winters.

Male Common Goldeneyes have a white body, black rump, greenish-black iridescent heads, and a white spot beneath their eyes.

The female Common Goldeneye has a light gray body, dark butt, and brown head.

Common Goldeneyes have a broad white wing patch very noticeable in flight.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Common Goldeneye’s wings make a metallic whistling sound when they are in flight.



Mergansers are diving ducks with long, thin bills for holding fish. There are three species of Mergansers found throughout Kansas. 

If you see any of these birds in Spring, you may be lucky enough to see the Merganser Dance. Males of all three species line up to impress the girls by bobbing heads, extending their necks, rising out of the water, snapping their bills, and making weird grunting sounds.

19. Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser ducks
Hooded Mangerser duck pair

Scientific Name: Lophodytes cucullatus                  Size: 18 inches

Small Mergansers with long, slender bills are affectionately called “Hoodies” by birders. Mostly found on ponds and bays, especially if they have woods around them.

Male Hooded Mergansers have a cinnamon body, black head and back, and the distinctive black-and-white hood that, when closed, is somewhat rectangular and rounded when opened.

The female has a long tail, a dark gray body, and a head with ample frosted brown feathers trailing behind its head.

Resourceful birds, Hooded Mergansers utilize old woodpecker holes to lay their eggs in. Mergansers are mostly fish eaters and also consume crustaceans and insects.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Female Mergansers always look like they’ve had a bad hair day, wet or dry. The female “Hoodies” appear to have had a moderate day compared to their other Merganser sisters.

Male Hoodies have two looks – Hood (crest) down and hood (crest) up. The crest down gives them a sort of squared, flat top head, while the crest up has their heads looking rounded.


20. Common Merganser

Common merganser ducks

Scientific Name: Mergus Merganser         Size: 25 inches

Large Merganser with long, slender orange bills. They glide on the water with a clean, regal appearance. In Kansas, they are often seen in fall and winter.

The males have a white body, sleek iridescent green head, and black back. Females are gray with a cinnamon head. Their head feathers form a short crest. They can have that same “bad hair day” look of all the female Mergansers, but they never appear as disheveled as the Hoodies and Red-breasted females.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Common Mergansers can have big broods and often adopt other chicks found without mothers. They will line up behind the mother or get up on her back for a free ride.


21. Red-breasted Merganser

Scientific Name: Mergus serrator              Size: 23 inches

The largest Merganser. Red-breasted Mergansers, also known as Sawbills, are seen in Kansas during winter months.

Both Red-breasted Mergansers have long, slim serrated bills. The male bill is red while the female’s bill is orange.

These large ducks sit low in the water. Loons also sit low in the water. Loons are big, heavy-bodied birds with thick bills. Red-breasted Mergansers are much smaller, lighter-bodied birds with thin bills. You shouldn’t mistake a Red-breasted Merganser for a Common Loon.

Red-breasted Mergansers have the worst hair days in the Merganser family. While the males can look like they’ve just gotten out of bed, the females look like they’ve just driven cross country in a convertible. It gets worse when they get wet.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Red-breasted Mergansers need to eat seventeen fish a day on average. That means they must dive between 250 to 300 times daily to meet their nutritional requirements.


Sea Ducks

While you would normally expect to find these ducks floating on the ocean, they do find their way into sheltered bays, estuaries, brackish waters, and large lakes in the interior, anywhere with open water.

22. Long-tailed Duck

Long-tail duck pair

Scientific Name: Clangula hymalis                     Size: 20.5 inches

Whether they are diving, flying, or just hanging out on the water, Long-tailed Ducks always look like they are having fun. What’s a little cold when you’re watching these happy-go-lucky beautiful little ducks?

For the most part, Long-tailed Ducks are black or brown with white patches and markings.

The male Long-tailed Duck is strikingly patterned, changing plumage throughout the year. Breeding drakes have white heads, necks, and breasts and a black patch on their cheeks. Females are mostly brown with white patches.

Long-tailed Ducks are great divers and prefer mollusks and crustaceans for their dining pleasure. They are fast on the wing and fly lower than most other ducks.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Yodel-Ay-Hee-Hoo!! Long-tailed Ducks yodel. You can often hear them before you see them, and the more there are, the louder it gets.

These ducks are so much fun to watch! Long-tailed Ducks dive into the water like little daredevils. And they yodel! You may not be able to see them, but you can hear them loud and clear.


Scoters in Kansas

Scoters are major sea ducks, but they are found throughout the interior of the United States during winter, predominantly on larger bodies of water such as rivers, dams, reservoirs, and glacial lakes. They are sort of heavy-bodied and tend to fly low to the water. 

They are all basic black. White-winged Scoters show a very visible white patch on their wings and a white comma near the male’s eyes. Surf Scoter males have an unusual tricolor bill that stands out and a white spot on the back of their necks. 

All three are rare in Kansas, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be found in certain locations. This is where eBird becomes a fantastic tool to track them down in your local area. Use the “Explore” tab to locate the species you want to find and expand the range map to hone in on locations near you.

23. Black Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta nigra                Size: 19 inches

The Black Scoter is the smallest and most compact of the Scoter family. In Kansas, they can be found only during winter months in the western portion of the state and are the more common of the three species.

They are dark sea ducks with short bills, usually found floating in rafts on the open salt water or large freshwater bodies.

Males have yellow-orange bills and are all black; females are dark with whitish patches on the face and cheeks.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Black Scoters are very vocal, making a whistling sound that carries over the water.


24. White-winged Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta fusca                                           Size: 21 inches

The largest of the Scoters, they are usually found in large rafts floating along with other members of the Scoter family. White-winged Scoters have a long bill and somewhat concave head.

Seasonal visitors to Kansas, White-winged Scoters are found in winter months, primarily in eastern Kansas.

Males are black on top over a dark brown body, with a distinctive white “comma” below their eyes. The bills are orange and slightly puffed close to the head.

Female White-winged Scoters are dark brownish-black. Like the other female Scoters, they have two white patches on the face, one behind the eye and the other on the face between the eyes.

The white speculum on both sexes is an easy identification mark, not only when they are on the wing, but also when diving or sitting in the water.

Interesting Facts & Notes

White-winged Scoters are usually found in mixed rafts along with Black Scoters. The male White-winged Scoter’s eye comma stands out, so if you count all the black ducks with white eye markings, the rest of the Scoters in the group must be Black Scoters. (This tip is courtesy of a waterfowl census-taker).


25. Surf Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta perspicillata                  Size: 20 inches

Surf Scoters are the Scoter species found closest to shore and the easiest to identify. Look for them in winter months on large lakes and reservoirs.

The males are all black with a white patch on the forehead and a larger one on the nape of the neck. They have heavy triangular, multi-colored, bulbous bills that stand out among the sea ducks. 

The most distinctive features of male Surf Scoters are their bills. The bills appear orange from afar but are black, white, red, and yellow. They are wider and puffier at the top and taper towards the tip, making their heads look like a wedge.

The female Surf Scoter has two white patches on her face, one in the front being long and narrow while the other sits behind and beneath the eye. 

On saltwater, these sea ducks like to be where the breaking waves are, so they are usually the Scoter found closest to shore. They dive for crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, and aquatic vegetation.

Interesting Facts & Notes

An old name for the Surf Scoter used to be “Skunk Head”.

First-winter males do not have the large, protruding bill of mature adults.


Rare ducks that may be found in Kansas

The Eurasian Wigeon looks very much like an American Wigeon, but the head is reddish-brown, the head stripe is a buffy cream, and the body is a pearl gray with a pinkish breast. They are often found mixed in with American Wigeon.  

Oh, and they hybridize easily with American Wigeon, so you’ll have to consider that. Take a photo if you can and show it to someone in a local Audubon or birding group.

A very rare vagrant is the Fulvous Whistling Duck. These are odd ducks, looking like a cross between a goose and a duck, with long necks and long legs. While rare, the population seems to be expanding, so a summer sighting is not impossible. 

Another possibility (and possibly a difficult ID) is the Mottled Duck. These waterfowls look very familiar – the body is that of a female Mallard and the head resembles those of the American Black Duck. They are a more vibrant brown than the female Mallard, but be aware that they hybridize with the Mallard (and Mexican Mallard) easily. 

And be on the lookout for this sea duck – the Barrow’s Goldeneye. Barrow’s Goldeneyes have been occasionally spotted in Cowley, Scott, Sedgwick, Stafford, and Trego Counties. 

Fun Facts – Where’s the White?

White seems to be a color that most waterfowl have in common. This method of identifying species of waterfowl by where the white is comes from the Cornell Bird Lab, which produces a neat fold-out guide for this method.

It works like this –   do you see white on the duck you’re observing? It’s in different areas on different duck species. 

  • White-winged Scoters have a white comma under their eye and a very distinctive white speculum that can be seen in flight and when resting on the waves (and females have white face patches). 
  • Surf Scoters have a white patch on their foreheads and the back of their necks in addition to their huge bills (face patches on females apply here too). 
  • Black Scoter males have no white, and females have face patches.

Using the location of the white markings, you can see how to identify each of the Scoter species by seeing where the white is: a comma under the eye is a White-winged, forehead and neck patches are Surf, and no white at all means Black Scoter. Eventually, you will become familiar with the shapes and locations of the face patches on the females too, and become an expert Scoter spotter.

Migration Highways

Birds traveling during migration use ancient, unseen pathways in the sky called flyways. The major paths running through North America are the Atlantic, Pacific, Central, and Mississippi Flyways. The main pathway in the central United States is called the Central Flyway, which covers the western Gulf Coast, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and Southwestern United States.  

Kansas sits in the Central Flyway. Birds from waterfowl to hummingbirds use this invisible highway in the sky to travel north and south.

Where to find Ducks in Kansas

The best places to find ducks in Kansas are ponds, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and marshes. Another good place for migratory waterfowl is Cheyenne Bottoms Refuge in Great Bend KS and other designated wildlife areas.

Favorite spots are anywhere on lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, wetlands, and prairie potholes. While you would think saltwater for sea ducks, some may show up on other bodies of water, especially in the interior United States.

Many of the ducks mentioned here are winter visitors to Kansas. Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Pintail, Redhead, Ruddy, and Green-winged Teal are year-round residents, while Blue-winged Teal are only seen during Spring and Fall migrations. 

National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) are awesome places for both bird watchers and duck hunters to search for ducks.

There are 4 National Wildlife Refuges in Kansas, – Flint Hills, Kirwin, Marais de Cygnes, and Quivira NWRs.

*** If you visit one of the many National Wildlife Refuges in Kansas, please consider purchasing a Federal Duck Stamp. ***

The $25 fee gets you a beautiful commemorative stamp featuring paintings of waterfowl. It provides the network of National Wildlife Refuges with funds to maintain and preserve valuable wetland habitats like freshwater marshes.

Showing your Federal Duck Stamp covers any entrance/parking fees at most National Wildlife Refuges.


Whatever state you find yourself in, the local Audubon Society is also a good place to find where the ducks are being seen. Kansas Audubon has great information on bird watching in the state.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little guide to the ducks you will find in Kansas. All you need to start is a decent pair of binoculars and a good location. Get out there are see all the wonderful ducks found in Kansas.

Similar Posts