29 Ducks in New Jersey

This is a listing of 29 species of ducks in New Jersey. Some are seen year-round while some are seasonal, and some are rarities just passing through. No matter when you find them, ducks are beautiful waterfowl and are fun to watch, photograph, or hunt.

Ducks, swans, and geese are part of the bird world also known as Waterfowl. Other birds that are considered waterfowl are loons, grebes, and coots.

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

Ducks can be found throughout New Jersey. They can be 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 diving ducks. They can stay down for long periods. Most live on the open ocean or offshore islands during the summer and come into the coastal waters in winter.

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

Dabbling Ducks in New Jersey

1. 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. 

These ducks show a purple-blue speculum. They are year-round residents in New Jersey.

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

Bird Notes

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


2. Mallard Duck

Mallard ducks both male and female

Scientific Name Anas platyrhynchos      Size 23 inches

The most common ducks in New Jersey and up and down the East Coast.

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, that are mostly seen in flight but 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 and Muscovy), but also with ducks such as Domestic Mallards, Domestic Muscovy, Pekin, and other domesticated breeds.

These hybrids may end up looking like a Mallard, something resembling a Mallard – or nothing like a Mallard.

Bird 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 waterfowl will thank you.


3. Wood Duck

Wood duck male and female

Scientific Name Aix sponsa          Size: 18.5 inches

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

In New Jersey, 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.

Bird 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.


4. American Wigeon

Scientific Name: Anas americana         Size: 20 inches

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.

Bird 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. Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian male and female ducks

Scientific Name: Anas Penelope                Size: 20 inches

Similar to American Wigeon, the drake has a rufous head with a buff-colored stripe starting at the forehead. The breast is light rufous and the sides and belly are light gray in breeding plumage. The breast turns light brown in the non-breeding season.

Female Eurasian Wigeons look like female American Wigeons, so this identification isn’t easy. The Eurasians tend to have a warmer brown on their heads and a gray underwing when seen in flight.

In New Jersey, they are often found mixed in with American Wigeon.

Bird Notes

American and Eurasian Wigeons hybridize easily, so consider this if you see something that kind of looks like a combination of the two species.

The Eurasian Wigeon male whistles.


6. 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 New Jersey during migration.

The male has black feathers on its rump in the breeding season. If you see a dull brown duck with a black butt, it has to be a male Gadwall.

If you find the ducks with the black butts, the less flashy brown females near them are likely female Gadwalls.

Gadwall ducks are ground nesters, like most dabbling ducks.

Bird Notes

Gregarious ducks, Gadwall like to hang out with other duck species, especially American Wigeon. You can pick them out of a crowd by the male’s black rump.


7. 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.

Bird Notes

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


8. Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler ducks

Scientific Name: Anas clypeata                                  Size: 19 inches

Large dabbling duck with an unmistakable long, spoon-shaped bill.

The males have an iridescent green head, while the chest, breast, and rump with a chestnut side and belly. Female Northern Shovelers are speckled brown.    

The characteristic feature of the Northern Shoveler duck 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.

Bird Notes

No other dabbling duck has a bill as long as a Northern Shoveler.

Northern Shovelers also work together, swimming in circles to stir up any seeds and weeds that will float to the surface, and then eating what arises.


9. 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 New Jersey, they are only seen starting in early fall, during migration. Look for them in shallow water, close to the shoreline.

The males have a distinctive 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.

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

Bird 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.


10. Green-winged Teal

green-winged teal duck

Scientific Name: Anas crecca                      Size: 14 inches

 A year-round resident of the state, this beautiful duck is the smallest of the dabbling ducks and has a short neck and slender, short bill. 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 ducks show a green speculum. They are fast flyers with quick wingbeats.

Bird Notes

The Green-winged Teal is a very small duck. Even when in a large mixed flock, the Green-winged Teal is the tiniest duck on the pond.


Diving Ducks

11. Ring-neck Ducks

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 New Jersey, 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-neck Duck likes to nest in woody-edged marshes. They eat mostly aquatic plants, along with clams and snails.

Bird Notes

Ring-neck Ducks look a lot like Lesser and Greater Scaup. See Birds Notes on the Greater Scaup to find some tips on telling these birds apart from each other.


12. Lesser Scaup

lesser scaup ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya affinis                   Size: 16.5 inches

Diving ducks that can be found on freshwater ponds, lakes, and bays, Lesser Scaups feed primarily on clams and other marine prey but also eat vegetation.

In New Jersey, Lesser Scaups are seen during migration.

The male has a black head (which may show a purplish iridescence in certain light), neck, and breast like the Ring-neck 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.

The female, however, has a white crescent around her bill, a dark-brown head, neck, and breast, a brown-gray body, and a darker brown back. 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 primarily on clams and other marine prey but also eat vegetation.

Bird Notes

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


13. Greater Scaup

greater scaup ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya marila                  Size: 18 inches

These diving ducks are found on saltwater bays and lakes and are often found in large numbers. Greater Scaups are seen in New Jersey during winter months.

The male has a black head (which may show a greenish iridescence in certain light), neck, and breast, like the Ring-neck 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 has 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 Bird Notes will.

Bird Notes

Ring-neck Duck, Lesser Scaup and sometimes Greater Scaup can be found on the same body of water (sometimes in large flocks), making their identification difficult. These are probably the most confusing species of ducks you’ll have to identify.

The male Ring-neck Duck has a black back, its bill has a black tip, and it has a white stripe between its face and its bill, and the females have a white eye ring.

The male Lesser Scaup has a light gray back, no black tip on the bill, and a squarish black head with a purplish iridescence when seen in good light. 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-neck 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.


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 winter residents of New Jersey.

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

Female Ruddy Ducks look like the non-breeding male 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.

Bird 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

Large duck with distinctive sloping head, long, tapering black bill, red eye, and a long neck. Canvasback ducks are winter visitors to New Jersey.

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 sloping head 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.

They eat vegetation and aquatic invertebrates.

Bird Notes

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


16. Redhead Duck

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 duck 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.

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

Bird Notes

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


17. Bufflehead Duck

bufflehead ducks

Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola                                        Size: 13 to 16 inches

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

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.

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

Bird 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!

Mergansers: Mergansers are diving ducks with long, thin bills for holding fish. There are two species of Mergansers found throughout New Jersey.

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.


18. 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 in shape and rounded when opened.

Open hood on male Hooded Merganser duck
Full-open hood

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

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

Bird 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.


19. 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.

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 seem to appear as disheveled as the Hoodies and Red-breasted females do.

Bird 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.


20. Red-breasted Merganser

Scientific Name: Mergus serrator              Size: 23 inches

The largest Merganser. Red-breasted Mergansers, also known as Sawbills, are seen in New Jersey 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.

Bird Notes

Red-breasted Mergansers need to eat seventeen fish a day on average. That means they have to dive between 250-300 times every day 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.

21. Common Goldeneye

Scientific Name: Bucephela clangula                       Size: 18.5 inches

Diving ducks with noticeable golden eyes and white cheek patches are seen on both fresh and saltwater during New Jersey 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 rump, and brown head.

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

Bird Notes

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


22. Barrow’s Goldeneye

Scientific Name: Bucephala islandica                      Size: 18 inches

A diving duck with a prominent golden eye, they are seen on both fresh and salt water.

Breeding males are similar to the Common Goldeneye, but where the Common has a thin black, back and black lines trailing down his flank, the Barrow’s has a broad black back and white “windowpanes” on the shoulders.

Female Barrow’s Goldeneyes are similar to Common Goldeneye, but their silhouette is a short-necked duck with a short bill as opposed to the Common female’s short neck but longer, straighter bills.

The other main field mark for Barrow’s Goldeneye is the shape of the white patch on the faces of both the males and females. While Common Goldeneye has a spot, Barrow’s Goldeneye males have a crescent on their faces close to the bills.

The best way to see the difference between the two species is with a spotting scope. Most birders are a friendly bunch and will allow you to take a look.

Bird Notes

Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks like cold, arctic climates and are found along Maine and the North Atlantic coasts during the winter months, but no further south than New Jersey, where they are rare. (Remember that the south is relative to where you start, so traveling to New Jersey is like going to Florida for a bird that breeds in Alaska, Maritime Canada, and Iceland.


23. Harlequin Duck

Harlequin ducks

Scientific Name: Histrionicus histrionicus              Size: 16.5 inches

Compact, small-billed duck that could easily vie for the title of the most beautiful duck. Harlequins love rocky coasts, jetties, and anywhere you can find rough, turbulent waters. Look for them on the coast during the winter months.

Male Harlequins stand out in the duck world – no other duck looks like them. Their bodies are slate-blue, the sides and flanks are chestnut, and these areas are separated by white stripes. Add some white spots on the face and neck, and you have one fabulous duck.

Females are brown with white spots on the face and behind the eye.

Harlequin Ducks make squeaking noises when they are together. This is why they are called “Sea Mouse”.

These birds love rough water. They can be found around jetties, piers, along rocky coasts, and on fast-moving rivers.

Bird Notes

Harlequin Ducks are often found with broken bones from being pushed around in rough waters. As evidenced by museum specimens and X-rays, many have healed fractures.


24. 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.

Bird Notes 

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.



25. Common Eider

common eider ducks

Scientific Name: Somateria mollissima                    Size: 24 inches

The largest duck in the northern hemisphere. They are heavy-bodied ducks with a classic, wedge-shaped, sloping head.

Look for Common Eider ducks along the coast during winter months.

Common Eider males show numerous plumages between their first year and adulthood, all variations of brown and white. The breeding male is white with a black belly, rump, and a cap on his head.

Female Common Eiders are brown with barred plumage and a pale green bill.

Bird Notes

Do you sleep under Eider Down comforters or Duvets? This is where all those fluffy warm feathers come from.

Common Eiders fly low to the water in a straight line. Yes, these ducks are in a row.


26. King Eider

Scientific Name: Somateria spectabilis     Size: 22 inches

A northern visitor occasionally found in New Jersey during winter, often mixed in with Common Eider flocks. While identifying the male is easy, figuring out if you’re looking at a female Common, female King, or immature of both species is difficult.

There is no mistaking a male King Eider duck in breeding plumage. The blue-white head and prominent yellow forehead stand out. Their bodies are black with a white neck and chest and a white hip patch.

Adult female King Eiders are similar to female Common (brown all over) but King Eiders have a shorter bill and the barred brown feathers have a chevron pattern. The head has a less Roman profile and a slightly “smiling” appearance.

Bird Notes

King Eiders are deep divers, hunting for mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic insects, with an occasional side of eelgrass and algae.


27. Black Scoter    

Scientific Name: Melanitta nigra                Size: 19 inches

The Black Scoter is the smallest and most compact of the Scoter family. In New Jersey, they can be found during winter months.

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

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

Black Scoters dive for clams and other crustaceans.

Bird Notes

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


28. 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 New Jersey, White-winged Scoters are found in winter months.

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.

Bird 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).


29. 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 coastal bays and the Atlantic Ocean.

Surf Scoter 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. 

Male Surf Scoter 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. 

Surf Scoters 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.

Bird 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 in New Jersey

If you see a species of duck that appears to be a Ring-billed Duck but it has a long feather growing from the back of its head, that’s a Tufted Duck, a very rare visitor in New Jersey. You’ll probably need a scope to make positive IDs on the Tufted Duck because those extra head feathers could be either very long and easily visible or a very short curl.

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.

The method 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.

Where to find Ducks in New Jersey

Ducks are waterfowl, so the best places to find ducks in New Jersey are around water, be it in freshwater (lakes, ponds, and rivers) or saltwater (the Atlantic Ocean, bays, estuaries) or marshland – anywhere there is a source of water.

A large portion of New Jersey sits along the Atlantic Flyway, so there are many places to get out and search for waterfowl and other species of birds in the state. Some favorite places to visit are lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, wetlands, beaches, and shorelines.

Beaches and barrier islands are great places to observe winter waterfowl. Harlequin ducks like areas with rough water, so search for them near jetties and piers – anywhere where the waters will be turbulent and stir up food from the bottom.

A visit to Cape May, Barnegat, or Brigantine in winter gets you all the sea ducks, and maybe some alcids (Razorbills, Murres), rare gulls (Iceland, Glaucous, Kittiwakes, etc.), and other birds that like the cold.

Most of the ducks mentioned here are winter visitors to New Jersey. Mallards, Wood Ducks, and American Black Duck 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 5 National Wildlife Refuges in New Jersey. One, the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, consists of 3 combined areas (Edwin B. Forsythe, Brigantine, and Barnegat). The habitat here is over 75% saltwater wetlands, making it ideal for shorebirds and over-wintering waterfowl. Cape May is awesome year-round. Wallkill River NWR straddles New Jersey and New York.  There’s also Supawna Meadows and Great Swamp. All provide prime viewing locations for migratory waterfowl.


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

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

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

There are other areas in addition to the NWRs, like the Jersey Shore barrier islands (go to the beach in winter!) There are also numerous wildlife preserves and local wildlife management areas that are awesome places to bird.

Whatever state you find yourself in, the local Audubon Society is also a good place to find where the ducks are being seen. The New Jersey Audubon has great information on bird watching in the Garden State, and its regional chapters provide local insight and tips on where to go and what to see.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little guide to the ducks you will find in New Jersey. 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 New Jersey.

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