26 Plus Ducks in Rhode Island

This is a listing of 28 types of ducks (and a list of some non-ducks) that can be found in Rhode Island. 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, it’s the male ducks that 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 Rhode Island. 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 heads down and butt up when they feed. If their asses are in the air; they are dabbling ducks.

Diving ducks will get all of themselves wet at the same time. You can find these on fresh and salt water, on lakes and streams as well as on bays and inlets.

Sea ducks are definitely diving ducks. They can stay down for long periods of time. Most live on the open ocean or on offshore islands during the summer and come into the coastal waters in winter.

A word about “South”

I mention migration often in this article, and with the exception of a few of the dabblers, most of the ducks in this article move from somewhere else to Rhode Island and throughout New England. Many spend their breeding time in much colder climates, so to them, New England waters, though cold, are actually warmer than what they’re used to.

South is relative to where you start, and for some of these birds, coming to Rhode Island is like you going to Florida. Their breeding grounds are in the high Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, and the Canadian Maritimes.

That’s why Harlequin Ducks like the areas around Newport and Sachuest Point (in addition to all that rough water), and White-winged Scoters are not as prominent in Rhode Island as they are in Connecticut and New York (you’ve got to see the Scoter Show at Montauk!) because they like their waters a little warmer than Black and Surf Scoters do.

Of course, climate change seriously affects bird migration. A few years ago, temperature changes in the Gulf Stream found Razorbills, definitely cold-water birds, as far south as Florida.

Looking for other birds in Rhode Island, check out our article on 29 Backyard Birds in Rhode Island, Owls in Rhode Island, and Hawks in Rhode Island.

Dabbling Ducks

1. Mallard

Mallard ducks both male and female

Scientific Name: Anas platyrhynchos      Size: 23 inches


The most common duck in Rhode Island 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 that resembles a Mallard – or nothing like a Mallard at all.

Bird Notes

Mallards are adventurous opportunists and love to swim in your pool, uncovered or covered (if there’s standing water on your cover). They’ll nest on your lawn and bathe in your 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 a commercial duck feed instead. The waterfowl will thank you for it.

2. Wood Duck

Wood duck male and female

Scientific Name: Aix sponsa          Size: 18.5 inches


Small, compact duck species are usually seen in pairs or solo, but almost never in big flocks. They are usually found on quiet lakes, ponds, and streams.

In Rhode Island, Wood ducks are usually seen from March to November.

The male is 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 literally take a leap of faith – they jump out of their nest, hit the ground, and waddle off in search of water.

3. 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 stripe 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 Rhode Island.

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, they’re really not).

4. American Wigeon

Scientific Name: 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.

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

Bird Notes

If you see an American Wigeon with a rufous head and a buff-colored forehead stripe, it may actually 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. Gadwall are usually found in Rhode Island 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.

Gadwalls are ground nesters, like most of the 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.

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.

The breeding 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, difficult to see in flight.

Bird 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


Large dabbling duck with the 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 is their 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 Shovelers. Northern Shovelers also work

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.

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

Bird Notes

Blue-winged Teal prefers shallow marshy ponds and mudflats and like being 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


The smallest of the dabbling ducks 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 shows 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

10. Ring-neck Duck

ring-neck duck pair

Scientific Name: Aythya collatis                 Size: 17 inches


A medium-sized diving duck is usually found in shallow fresh water. Ring-necked Ducks are seen year-round in Rhode Island.

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. There is a white stripe between his head and a light gray bill with a black tip.

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

The female’s back is a medium-gray over a light brown body. She has a white eye ring, 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

See Birds Notes on #12 to find some tips on identifying these birds.

11. Lesser Scaup

lesser scaup ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya affinis                   Size: 16.5 inches


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

In Rhode Island, Lesser Scaup is 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 a 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 Scaup feeds primarily on clams and other marine prey but also eats vegetation.

Bird Notes

See Birds Notes on #12 to find some tips on identifying these birds.

12. Greater Scaup

greater scaup ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya marila                  Size: 18 inches


Diving duck found on saltwater bays and lakes often congregates in large numbers. Greater Scaup is seen in Rhode Island during the winter months.

The male has a black head (which may show a greenish iridescence in certain light), neck, and breasts 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 number 11 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 a positive 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, making the identification of each species difficult.

The male Ring-neck Duck has a black back, its bill has a black tip, and it has a white stripe between his face and his 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 a green iridescence, with a slightly lighter gray back than the Lesser Scaup. The female has a lighter brown back.

Usually, Greater Scaup is greater than Lesser Scaup on salt water, Lesser Scaup is greater than Greater Scaup on fresh water, and Ring-neck is greater than Lesser and Greater Scaup on 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.

13. 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. Canvasbacks are winter visitors to Rhode Island.

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, with the exception of the Eiders.

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

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.

14. Redhead Duck

Redhead ducks

Scientific Name: Aythya americana          Size: 19 to 20 inches


Redhead Ducks are beautiful, striking diving ducks, with the male’s cinnamon head contrasting with their light gray bodies.

The male Redhead has a bright rufous head, a blue bill with a black tip, a gray body with its slightly rounded back, and a black chest and rump. The female Redhead is a duller brown with a blueish-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 species like Ring-neck Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, and Canvasback.

15. 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.

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 the white cheek has 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.

16. Bufflehead

bufflehead ducks

Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola                                        Size: 13 to 16 inches


Small diving ducks are found on both fresh and saltwater during the winter months, mostly in Southern Rhode Island.

Male buffleheads have a large white patch on the back of their head, a white body, and a 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.

Bird Notes

Bufflehead appears like the proverbial rubber duck, bobbing up and down on the water. Notice that when they dive, there is always a sentinel that stays on top to look for signs of danger

17. Common Goldeneye

Scientific Name: Bucephela clangula                       Size: 18.5 inches


Diving ducks with noticeable golden eyes are found on both fresh and salt waters during Rhode Island winters.

Male Common Goldeneye has 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 has 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.


Mergansers are diving ducks with long, thin bills for grabbing and holding fish. There are three species of Mergansers found throughout Rhode Island.

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

Scientific Name: Lophodytes cucullatus                  Size: 18 inches


Small Merganser with long, slender bills 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.

The female has a long tail, 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.

Bird Notes

Female Hooded Mergansers always look like they’ve had a bad hair day, wet or dry. The female “Hoodies” are the neatest-looking and smallest of the Merganser girls.

19. Common Merganser

Common merganser ducks

Scientific Name: Mergus merganser         Size: 25 inches


Large Merganser with long, slender orange bills. The males have a white body, sleek iridescent green head, and black back. They glide on the water with a clean, regal look.

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 are.

Bird Notes

Common Mergansers can have big broods, and will 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, and are seen in Rhode Island during migration.

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

21. 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. You’ll have to be along the Rhode Island coast in winter to find them, but what’s a little cold when you’re watching these happy-go-lucky cute 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 and lack the long tail of the drake.

Long-tailed Ducks are great divers and prefer mollusks and crustaceans. 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.

22. 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 along 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 chestnuts, 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, which is why they are sometimes called the “Sea Mouse”.

These birds love rough water. They can be found around jetties, along rocky coasts, and on fast-moving rivers. They pay a price for all this white-water frolicking, though.

Bird Notes

If Harlequin Ducks were humans, they would be the orthopedist’s favorite patients. Harlequins are frequently found with broken bones from being pushed around in the rough waters they inhabit. As evidenced by museum specimens and X-rays, many have had healed fractures.

23. 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 along the coast during the 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.

24. Surf Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta perspicillata                  Size: 20 inches


The Scoter was found closest to shore and the easiest to identify. Look for them in the winter months in the surf zone of many of your local beaches.

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 actually 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 Scoter 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

Surf Scoters were once called “Skunkhead” or “Old Skunkhead”.

25. Black Scoter                

Scientific Name: Melanitta nigra                Size: 19 inches


The Black Scoter is the smallest and most compact of the Scoter family. In Rhode Island, they can be found only during winter months, usually floating in the swells, and are the most abundant of the scoter species found in the state.

They are dark sea ducks with short bills, usually found floating in rafts on the open salt water. They are excellent divers, going down in search of clams and other crustaceans.

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

Bird Notes

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

26. White-winged Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta fusca                                           Size: 21 inches


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

Seasonal visitors to Rhode Island, White-winged Scoters are found in winter months, but not in the numbers they are found in surrounding states.

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 Scoter is 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 the least likely Scoter species found in Rhode Island, but they are out there.

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).

Other ducks that may be found in Rhode Island but are usually rare

Eurasian Wigeon is similar to American Wigeon, but the drake has a rufous head with a buff-colored stripe starting at the forehead. Females look very much like female American Wigeon. The Eurasians tend to have a warmer brown on their heads and a gray underwing when seen in flight.

They are not numerous in Rhode Island and will likely be found mixed in with American Wigeon during the winter months. Listed for the male’s whistle.

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 Rhode Island.

Another infrequent visitor to the state is Barrow’s Goldeneye. Barrow’s are usually found mixed in among Common Goldeneye and will make for a challenging identification, especially without a scope (male Barrow’s has a white comma on his face instead of the Common’s white spot).

King Eider is another sea duck that shows up infrequently in Rhode Island winter waters. Individuals are often mixed in among Common Eider flocks. Aside from the breeding male, this is a difficult ID that comes down to whether or not the brown feathers of females have a chevron pattern or not. Look it up – Common vs. King Eider identification – and good luck!

Other birds found in Rhode Island that look like they might be ducks, but aren’t

Common Loon

Winter visitor to the coast. A large, heavy-bodied bird sits low in the water. They are dark grey-black on top and white on the bottom (this is a common winter plumage for seabirds). Powerful divers that can stay down a long time. They go back inland in Spring. Some birds may start to show the familiar checkerboard pattern at this time.

Red-throated Loon

Slightly smaller than Common Loon. Same winter plumage (black back, white bottom). Tilts their head upwards, where Common Loons do not.

Horned Grebe

Small, lively bird with a black head and white cheek, greyish-black back, and grayish-white underparts. Has a red eye. Winter visitors are usually seen close to shore, diving into the waves.

Earned Grebe

The most abundant grebe worldwide. Similar to Horned Grebe. A winter visitor. Has the same black and white head as the Horned Grebe but the black is more of a helmet and the white cheek patch is smaller. Also has a red eye. The head is more rounded than Horned Grebe.


Large Alcid with a prominent black, blocky bill with a thin white stripe at the end. Awkward on land because their feet work like rudders to steer them in the water and are set further back on their bodies. Black back and white underparts. Winter visitors found on salt water; this is a sea bird.

Double-crested Cormorant

Recent numbers have been increasing in Rhode Island. Gangly black bird with an orange-yellow throat. Sits in the water like a duck or a loon, depending on how waterlogged their feathers are (they have minimum waterproofing oils so they have to get out when they start to get very low in the water). Often found on rocks or in trees with their wings outstretched to dry them out.

Great Cormorant

Winter visitor, slightly larger than Double-crested Cormorant, with white throat and white hip patch. Look at lighting on the ends of jetties and breakwaters, trees, or coastal rocks for these birds.

Where to find Ducks in Rhode Island

Ducks are waterfowl, so the best places to find ducks in Rhode Island are along the coast, on ponds, lakes, bays, and beaches. Also rivers, marshes, and wetlands.

National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) are awesome places to search for ducks.

There are 5 National Wildlife Refuges in Rhode Island:

            Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Middletown RI

            John H. Chafee NWR at Pettaquamscutt Cove, Narraganset RI

            Trustom Pond NWR, South Kingston RI

            Ninigret NWR, Charlestown RI

            Block Island NWR, New Shoreham RI (go here not just for the ducks – BI is a great place for fall birding.)

                        *** 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.

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

There are other Wildlife Refuges throughout Rhode Island that are state or privately owned. For ducks, anyone with a water source, be it fresh or salt is where to be to find them. Watch Hill Lighthouse / Napatree Point, Weekapaug, Quonochontaug, Charlestown Breachways, and Fisherman’s Memorial Park in the South County area are excellent spots for winter ducks.

Whatever state you find yourself in, the local Audubon Society is also a good place to find where the ducks are being seen. I’ve birded with Rhode Island Audubon and they are knowledgeable and fun to be out with.

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

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