Identification of 9 Diving Duck Species: A Photographic Guide

I’ve been having a look at my diving duck photographs over the last few years and have decided to put together this guide to their identification.


White-winged Scoter (male)

Scoters are heavy blackish ducks with a white wing patch (occasionally concealed).

White-winged Scoter (male)

Males have a tick of white near the eye and an orange bill.

White-winged Scoter (female)

Females are sooty in colour rather than black and have 2 light patches on the face.


Long-tailed Duck (male)

Long-tailed Ducks are mostly black and white.

Long-tailed Duck (male)

Males have a needlelike tail.

Long-tailed Duck (female)

Females do not have a long tail and have dark wings and a white face.


Canvasback (male)

The Canvasback has a sloping head and bill profile.


The female is grayish with a suggestion of pale rust on the head and neck.

Canvasback (male)

The male looks very white with a chestnut-red head and neck.



Redheads somewhat resemble Canvasbacks though Canvasbacks are bigger with long sloping foreheads and much whiter backs.

Redhead (female)

Females are brownish with a suffused light patch near the bill.

Redhead (male)

Males are gray with a black chest and a round reddish head.


Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks look a bit like scaup but have black backs and have a prominent white crescent on the sides in front of the wings.

Ring-necked Duck (male)

The male has a black back, a vertical white mark before the wing and the bill is crossed with a white ring.

Ring-necked Ducks

The female has an indistinct light face patch, a dark eye and a white eye-ring.


Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup form large “rafts” sometimes with 1,000 or more individuals in our area in winter. In comparison to Lesser Scaup, the head is rounder, less domed and somewhat glossed with dull green.

Raft of Greater Scaup
Greater Scaup (female)

Females are dark brown with a clean-cut white mask near the bill.

Greater Scaup (male)

Males are black at both ends and white and white in the middle.


“raft” of Lesser Scaup

The Lesser Scaup is usually found in shallow, marshy habitat, not in deep water where the Greater Scaup is seen. They are also a few centimetres shorter in length.

Lesser Scaup (male)

The male shows somewhat of a domed head compared to the rounder head of Greater Scaup. In addition, the head is glossed mainly in dull purple rather than the dull green of the Greater Scaup.

Lesser Scaup (female)

Like the female of the Greater Scaup, the female Lesser Scaup is dark brown with a clean-cut white mask near the bill.


Common Goldeneyes
Common Goldeneye (male)

The first impression of the male Goldeneye is of a mainly white duck with black head, back and tail and a golden eye.

Common Goldeneye (male)

Males have a puffy green-glossed head.

Common Goldeneye (female)

Females are gray with a white collar and a dark brown head and wings with large square white patches.


Buffleheads were originally called “Buffalo Heads” because of their large heads. Over time, this became “bufflehead.”

Buffleheads (male)

Males are mostly white with a black back, puffy head and a large bonnetlike white patch on the head.

Bufflehead (female)

Females are dark and compact with a white cheek spot and a small bill. Some say that she has a “feather in her cap.”

Miles Hearn

6 thoughts on “Identification of 9 Diving Duck Species: A Photographic Guide

  1. Roberta Benson

    Thank you Miles, this is so helpful, both your photos and the notes on distinguishing characteristics! Great, clear photos.


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