20 Types of Ducks Found in Tennessee! (ID Guide)

What kinds of ducks can you find in Tennessee?

common types and species of ducks

Who doesn’t love ducks? Head to almost any water habitat, and you are likely to see at least a few swimming around.

I think you’ll be amazed at how many duck species are found in Tennessee!

For people who are only ever used to seeing the common Mallard, this list should be incredibly eye-opening! The ducks featured below are most common and most likely to be observed. In reality, the complete list of ducks that may be seen in Tennessee is even larger!

Here is how the rest of this article is organized: (Click the link to jump to that section!)

Dabblers are those ducks that feed by sticking their head underwater and leaving their tails pointing up as they graze on the various greens and invertebrates in the shallows. However, that is not the only way that they eat. As winter ends and the snows start to melt, they will eat seeds and the leftover waste grain found in farm fields.

Diving ducks completely submerge themselves underwater to grab aquatic vegetation from the bottom or chase food, such as fish or invertebrates. They have adapted narrower, pointier, and overall smaller wings, which are perfect for swimming underwater. Consequently, these ducks typically lack the ability to simply take off from the surface like the dabblers and it’s common to see them running along the surface to build up enough speed to get airborne.

20  Ducks Found in Tennessee:

Dabbling Ducks

#1. Mallard

Duck species that live in Tennessee

How to identify:

  • Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rump with a white-tipped tail.
  • Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
  • Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.

My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely the most common species in Tennessee!

Mallard Range Map

mallard duck range map

Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located. We even find Mallards in our swimming pool every summer and have to chase them away, so they don’t make a mess on our deck! 🙂

Mallards readily accept artificial structures built for them by humans. If you have a nice pond or a marsh, feel free to put up a homemade nesting area to enjoy some adorable ducklings walking around your property! Just make sure you put up predator guards so predators can’t get to the eggs.

When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.

#2. American Wigeon

Common duck species in Tennessee

How to identify:

  • Compact ducks with round heads. Blue-gray bills that are tipped in black.
  • Males are mostly brown but have a distinctive green band behind their eyes and a white crown.
  • Females have brown bodies overall, with a grayer-colored head.

American Wigeons are numerous, but they prefer quiet lakes and marshes away from people. Their diet consists of a higher proportion of plant matter than other ducks and will even go to farm fields to feed, similar to geese. Their short bill provides a lot of power to help pluck vegetation with ease!

American Wigeon Range Map

american wigeon range map

Since they can scare easily when approached, one of the best ways to see these ducks in Tennessee is to listen for them! Males give a 3-part nasal whistle (whew-whew-whew) at any time of the year, which sort of sounds like a kazoo (heard below)! Females don’t whistle, but they do produce a harsh grunt quack.

#3. Gadwall

Tennessee duck species

How to identify:

  • Males have an intricate pattern of gray, brown, and black feathers, which look like white-fringed “scales.” Brown head and dark grey or black bill. The back is covered with medium and dark brown feathers. Males have a dark bill.
  • Females are mottled shades of brown with a dark orange-black bill. Look similar to female Mallards.
  • Both sexes have a white patch (much smaller on females) on their wings, visible when flying.

Gadwalls are easy ducks to overlook in Tennessee! Unlike most other species, males don’t sport any patches of blue, green, or white plumage. Look for them in small ponds that have lots of vegetation.

Gadwall Range Map

gadwall range map

Gadwalls have a funny habit of stealing food from diving ducks upon surfacing, with American Coots being their favorite victim! This behavior is seen more often in the summer, where animal matter can make up to 50% of their diet, whereas it drops to around 5% in winter. Submerged aquatic vegetation is their primary food source.

If you hear someone burping and you’re near water, then it may be a male Gadwall. Their short, reedy calls are often described as “burps.”

Females quack and sound similar to Mallards, except it’s just a bit more high pitched.

#4. Northern Pintail

Kinds of ducks in Tennessee

How to identify:

  • Slender ducks with long tails and necks and a pale black-gray bill.
  • Males have a cinnamon-brown head, gray bodies, and a white throat and breast.
  • Females have plain, tan heads and rufous-brown plumage on their bodies.

Northern Pintails have a long neck that exaggerates their extremely pointy tail (hence the name) when in flight. Even when floating on water, its tail sticks out further from its body than its head. Non-breeding males and all females have shorter but still prominent pintails.

Northern Pintail Range Map

northern pintail range map

The best place to find these ducks in Tennessee is wetland habitat away from people. Wildlife refuges are perfect places to start. They tend to stick to shallower areas near the edges of lakes and ponds. Interestingly, they are also proficient at walking on land, so you’ll find them cleaning farm fields of barley, wheat, rice, and corn leftovers.

Males have a unique call, which sounds a bit like a train whistle. Females utter low-pitched quacking “kuk” notes.

Northern Pintails only migrate at night and are incredible flyers! During migration, they reach speeds up to 48 mph (77 kph), and the record for longest non-stop flight is 1,800 miles (2,900 km)!

#5. Northern Shoveler

Types of ducks that live in Tennessee

How to identify:

  • Males have reddish-brown flanks, green heads, a white chest, black backs, and yellow eyes.
  • Females are brown, and sometimes you can see a bluish shoulder patch.
  • Both sexes have distinctive bills, which are large and wide!

If you only glance at the green head, casual observers in Tennessee might accidentally think these ducks are Mallards. But one look up close, and you should notice the ENORMOUS spoon-shaped bill, which is what Northern Shovelers are known for, and how they got their name.

Northern Shoveler Range Map

northern shoveler range map

They use their large bill to shovel and sift through mud and sand to find tasty tidbits like crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic insects that are buried. Interestingly, their bill has over 100 tiny projections on the edges called lamellae that help filter out the food they want to eat.

Males make a guttural “took-took” sound during courtship, when alarmed, and in flight. Females make a nasally sounding quack.

An interesting behavior observed with Northern Shovelers is their ability to “team up” to find food. Flocks of them will sometimes swim in circles together to help stir up food!

#6. Blue-winged Teal

Common Tennessee ducks

How to identify:

  • Males have a head this is bluish with a white band in front of the eye. Black bill and black wings. Body is brown with black spots.
  • Females have brown bodies. Look for a dark eyeline and crown on their head.

Blue-winged Teals are found in shallow wetlands across Tennessee. These ducks get their name because of the beautiful blue shoulder patch that is only visible while in flight! Just as pretty is the green plumage below the blue on the wing.

Blue-winged Teal Range Map

blue winged teal range map

Believe it or not, these beautiful waterfowl are the second most abundant duck in North America, behind only (you guessed it) the Mallard. Blue-winged Teal are a popular species for hunters, although the number of ducks that can be taken per year is monitored closely to ensure the population stays strong.

Males produce a high whistled “tsee-tsee.”

#7. Green-winged Teal

green winged teal

How to identify:

  • Males have chestnut-brown heads and a green ear patch. Beautiful gray-barred bodies with vertical white stripes on each side.
  • Females have a dark eye-line and are mottled brown throughout.
  • Both sexes have a green patch on their wing, which is visible in flight and most of the time when resting.

Green-winged Teals are the smallest dabbling ducks you will find in Tennessee. They are only 12-15 inches (31-39 cm) in length and weigh between 5 and 18 ounces (140-500 g).

Green-winged Teal Range Map

green winged teal range map

These birds often travel and hang out with other species. Look closely for the smallest duck in a mixed flock, and there is a good chance it’s a Green-winged Teal. Even females, which look similar to female Mallards, should stand out because they are noticeably smaller!

Green-winged Teal populations have increased in Tennessee through the years, even though they are the second most hunted duck in the country. Luckily, since they breed in the very northern parts of North America, their breeding range hasn’t suffered the same habitat loss that other species have encountered.

Males give a short, clear, repeated whistle, which is a unique sound for a duck if you ask me! Females often give a series of quacks at any time of the year.

#8. Wood Duck

wood ducks

How to identify:

  • Males have very intricate plumage. Look for the green crested head, red eyes, and chestnut breast with white flecks.
  • Females have brown bodies with a grayish head, which is also slightly crested. White teardrop eye patch and a blue patch on the wing.

Walt Disney used to say that “the world is a carousel of color,” and few waterfowl have taken this more to heart than the male Wood Duck. In fact, it looks like an artist used every color to paint a duck that has green, red, orange, lime, yellow, buff, rose, brown, tan, black, white, gray, purple, and blue coloring.

Wood Duck Range Map

wood duck range map

This is one of the few duck species in Tennessee you may see in a tree! Wood Ducks use abandoned tree cavities for nesting, but they also readily take to elevated nesting boxes.

When hatchlings leave the nest for the first time, they often have to make a giant leap of faith (up to 50 feet) to the ground below! You have to watch the video below to believe it. 🙂

YouTube video

Interestingly, Wood Ducks are perfectly evolved for their life spent in trees. Their claws are powerful, which allows them to perch and grasp onto branches!

The most common sound heard from Wood Ducks is when they are disturbed. I’ve often accidentally come upon them only to hear them flying away saying “ooeek-ooeek” loudly!

#9. American Black Duck

black duck

How to identify:

  • Both sexes have a dark brown body that contrasts against their pale brown head.
  • Males have a yellow bill. Females have a dull olive bill.
  • While flying, look for an iridescent purple rectangle on their wings.

American Black Ducks have a name that doesn’t describe them very well. You would think they would look like the Warner Brothers character Daffy Duck, but in fact, they don’t have any black on them!

American Black Duck Range Map

american black duck range map

These ducks are found in Tennessee in shallow wetlands, where they often forage with Mallards. American Black Ducks and female Mallards look incredibly similar, so make sure to look closely at large flocks for them!

Males make a flutelike whistle when trying to attract a mate. Females utter loud “quacks.”

#10. Muscovy Duck

  • Cairina moschata


  • Domesticated ducks that are heavy-set. Males can be double the size of females.  
  • Generally white and black, with dark green plumage around the wing area. 
  • Prominent red wattling is usually present around the bill and face.  

Wild Muscovy Ducks are native to the American continent. However, wild Muscovy Ducks are unlikely to be spotted in Tennessee. If you see one of these ducks, it is likely a domesticated individual who escaped!

This species was one of the first duck species to be domesticated. They were kept by people in South America and later exported to the European continent. The original Muscovy Ducks have given rise to a wide range of domesticated breeds through selective breeding. 

Muscovy Duck Species Range Map 

Native population range (green). Feral domesticated population (purple). Attribution: Cephas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Domesticated Muscovy Ducks are generally large and heavy birds. Red wattling around the face, and prominent knobs of wattling above the beak, are very noticeable in domesticated birds. Native Muscovy Ducks are much more slender and athletic in their build than domesticated individuals.

You will most likely see Muscovy Ducks in Tennessee on farms and in parks. Feral populations also exist in pockets across North America. Escaped domestic Muscovy Ducks often breed with other species, producing sterile offspring. 

Diving/Sea Ducks

#11. Bufflehead

bufflehead male female

How to identify:

  • Small ducks with large heads.
  • Males have white chests and flanks and a large white patch on their heads. Dark back. Iridescent purple-green plumage on their face.
  • Females are mostly brownish with a darker head. Look for the distinctive white cheek patch.

It’s hard to misidentify these striking ducks when seen in Tennessee. They spend up to half their time foraging underwater, looking for aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans, which they eat while still submerged. When they dive, be patient and keep scanning around the area for these small birds to resurface.

Bufflehead Range Map

bufflehead range map

Buffleheads are picky nesters, and they will ONLY lay eggs inside of a cavity. They almost exclusively use holes that were excavated by Northern Flickers, and on occasion, Pileated Woodpeckers. They are losing nest sites due to logging, but they do take readily to properly installed nest boxes.

Overall, Buffleheads are more silent than other ducks. In late winter to early spring, it’s possible to hear the males make a squeaky whistle.

#12. Canvasback

canvasback duck male female

How to identify:

  • A relatively large diving duck with a black breast, black tail, and a pale gray body. Their heads are wedge-shaped and slope down to their long, dark bill.
  • Males have red-brown heads and red eyes.
  • Females are duller overall, with a brown head and black eyes.

Canvasbacks are large diving ducks that rarely ever go to dry land. In fact, they even sleep while floating and build their nests in masses of floating vegetation!

Canvasback Range Map

canvasback range map

These ducks are omnivores that eat everything from insects and mussels to plant tubers and seeds. They can dive up to 7 feet deep, looking for aquatic vegetation, which they rip off with their strong bills.

These mostly silent ducks have had their populations fluctuate over the last 100 years. Loss of massive amounts of wetland habitat to development caused a decline in numbers, along with the loss of their primary food source (wild celery) disappearing in many places. But overall, their population has remained steady since the 1980s.

#13. Ruddy Duck

ruddy duck

How to identify:

  • Breeding males are blue-billed, white-cheeked, with a black cap and back of the neck, leading down to its chestnut-colored body. Stiff black tail is typically erect.
  • Females are tawny soft brown, except the darker cap. Females (and nonbreeding males) have a black, scoop-like bill.

Ruddy Ducks are one of the most interesting ducks found in Tennessee!

First, the males that are in their breeding plumage are unmistakable and look like no other duck. It’s hard to miss their bright blue bills and extremely thick necks.

Ruddy Duck Range Map

ruddy duck range map

Males also have a unique way of attracting females. They will beat their bill against their neck so hard that it forces air through the feathers, which creates a swirl of bubbles in the water, which I guess the girls find attractive? To finish off this display, they emit a belch-like sound!

Ruddy Ducks are much better swimmers than flyers. When they feel threatened by a predator, they much prefer to dive and swim away than taking to the air.

#14. Redhead

redhead ducks

How to identify:

  • Both sexes have a steep forehead leading down to their black-tipped gray bill.
  • Males have a distinctive cinnamon-red head with yellow eyes. Gray body and black chest.
  • Females are brownish overall with a paler face. Has dark eyes.

In Tennessee, Redheads are among the more sociable ducks you will find, especially in winter. It’s common to see them gathered together in enormous flocks, sometimes thousands strong, in relatively large lakes. Because of their gregarious nature, they are easily drawn to decoys, making them a popular game species for hunters.

Redhead Range Map

redhead duck range map

Interestingly, female Redheads practice a bit of brood parasitism, which means they will lay some of their eggs in the nests of other duck species and let them raise those hatchlings! Their favorite species to target include Mallard, Canvasback, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, and American Wigeon. What’s interesting is that they also build their own nests and raise these hatchlings themselves. Talk about playing the odds!

Males make a cat-like “whee-uogh” or “keyair” call when trying to court a female. When threatening another Redhead, the males also emit a low, trilling “rrrrr.”

#15. Ring-necked Duck

ring necked duck

How to identify:

  • Medium-sized duck with a peaked head. Both sexes have a gray bill with a white band and a black tip.
  • Males have a glossy black head, chest, and back with grey sides. Yellow eyes.
  • Females are brownish birds with a grey face and throat. Look for a bit of white around and behind their dark eyes.

In truth, the Ring-necked Duck has a terrible name for identification purposes. You would think there would be an obvious ring around their neck, but you would be mistaken! The so-called ring on their black necks is such a pale brown that it’s nearly impossible to spot from any distance.

Ring-necked Duck Range Map

ring necked duck range map

Unlike most other diving ducks, these birds tend to inhabit and visit SHALLOW ponds and wetlands in Tennessee. During the breeding season, you will usually only find two of them together, but in winter, they gather in flocks that number into the thousands of birds!

They are one of the most likely ducks to eat leftover shotgun pellets, making them susceptible to lead poisoning. Lead shot was banned in 1991, which has helped their population numbers, but some old ammo still remains in wetlands across Tennessee.

#16. Common Goldeneye

common goldeneyes

How to identify:

  • Males have a dark green head, a bright yellow eye, and a distinctive white cheek patch. The body is mostly white with a black back and rump.
  • Females have a brown head, a short dark bill with a yellow tip at the end, and a pale yellow eye. Look for their white neck collar and grayish bodies.

Common Goldeneyes are expert diving ducks in Tennessee. These birds can stay underwater for up to a minute in length as they search for their prey, which includes aquatic invertebrates, fish, and fish eggs, along with seeds and tubers from submerged vegetation.

Common Goldeneye Range Map

common goldeneye range map

Luckily, their population has remained strong and stable. One of their biggest threats is that they are cavity nesters and rely upon forestry practices that don’t cut down dead trees. Many dedicated people have put up next boxes in their breeding range to help provide more adequate nesting spots.

Hunters commonly refer to the Common Goldeneye as the “whistler” because of the distinctive whistling noises their wings make when flying. Both males and females are generally silent ducks except during courtship.

#17. Hooded Merganser

hooded merganser male and female

How to identify:

  • Small duck with a long, slender bill.
  • Breeding males have an unmistakable large black crest that has a large white patch on each side. Yellow eyes.
  • Females have dark eyes and are brown overall with a slightly lighter colored crest, which almost looks like a mohawk. Nonbreeding males look similar to females, except they have yellow eyes.

Appearance-wise, Hooded Merganser’s are one of my favorite birds. Seeing a breeding male with its large black and white crest erected is a beautiful sight. Look for these ducks in shallow ponds and rivers in summer, while in winter, they move to unfrozen lakes or bays.

Hooded Merganser Range Map

hooded merganser range map

Their long, thin bill is serrated, which helps them catch small fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects. Their food is almost always swallowed whole, regardless of size. They hunt underwater by sight and have vision adaptations that allow them to see quite clearly when submerged.

Females have an interesting behavior where they may lay some of their eggs in the nests of other Hooded Mergansers. While each bird can lay up to a dozen eggs, nests have been found with more than 40 eggs in them, making one duck work a lot harder than several others.

#18. Red-breasted Merganser

red breasted mergansers male female

How to identify:

  • Slim ducks with long bodies and necks and a long, thin bill.
  • Breeding males have a dark green head with a spiky-looking crest. Cinnamon-colored chest and red eyes.
  • Females and non-breeding males are greyish brown overall.

Red-breasted Mergansers breed in boreal forests across much of North America, where they can be found on many inland lakes. During winter, these sea ducks migrate south and spend most of their time just off the coast, although it’s possible to find them in just about any large, unfrozen body of water.

Red-breasted Merganser Range Map

red breasted merganser range map

Fish are their primary food source, and they need to eat roughly 15-20 per day to supply their energy demands. To catch this amount of fish, it’s estimated they need to make about 250 dives per day! Sometimes they will help each other out, and individuals will work together to herd minnows to shallower water, which makes the fish easier to catch.

Did you know that birds that primarily eat fish typically taste horrible? Because of this fact, Red-breasted Mergansers, and the other merganser species found in Tennessee, are not usually hunted. It’s also the reason you don’t find anyone trying to eat a penguin!

#19. Lesser Scaup

lesser scaup male female

How to identify:

  • Males have yellow eyes, a glossy black head, and a chest and rump that contrasts with the speckled gray back and white sides.
  • Females are dark brown overall with an even darker head. Look for a bright white patch around the base of the bill.

Lesser Scaups are the most abundant diving duck in North America. With that being said, it may not be easy to see one in Tennessee! They are mostly found in large lakes, reservoirs, and estuaries, where they can gather by the thousands. In winter, they gather closely by the thousands, and from afar, it looks like a large mass of floating vegetation.

Lesser Scaup Range Map

lesser scaup range map

Lesser Scaups and Greater Scaups look incredibly similar. The best way to tell them apart is to look at their head. Lesser Scaups have a more tall peaked head, where Greaters have a more rounded head.

These ducks are generally silent, and it’s rare to hear them. Females are a bit more vocal than males and make a variety of guttural scolding barks and grunts.

#20. Greater Scaup

greater scaup ducks

How to identify:

  • Males have yellow eyes, a green head, a dark chest, and a rump that contrasts with the speckled gray back and white sides.
  • Females have a chocolatey-brown head and warm brown body. Look for a bright white patch around the base of the bill.
  • Both sexes have large blue-grey bills with a black tip.

If you get a chance to see a Greater Scaup in Tennessee, please know that you are watching a duck that spends its summers breeding extremely far north in the arctic. Some individuals even go across the north pole into Europe!

Greater Scaup Range Map

greater scaup range map

These birds are almost always seen in large bodies of water, where they congregate in large numbers with other Greater Scaups. They look practically identical to Lesser Scaups, and it will take some practice to tell the difference between the two species.

Greater Scaups are excellent diving ducks, and they regularly go down 20+ feet to find aquatic vegetation or invertebrates to eat. These ducks are mostly silent, except during breeding season, where you may hear males give a soft, nasally whistle.

Help! I saw a duck that doesn’t match any on this list!

Here are some possible explanations if you saw a duck in Tennessee that doesn’t seem to match any of the species above.

It was a domestic duck or hybrid.

  • There are an incredible amount of ducks that are considered farm or domestic ducks. One popular example is the Pekin Duck, which has completely white plumage. Unfortunately, many of them escape and are introduced into wild populations. These individuals also commonly breed with other native species, specifically Mallards, which create hybrids that are impossible to identify.

You saw a rare or accidental species.

  • The ducks above are the most common species you may find in Tennessee, but it isn’t all-inclusive. Because of the migratory nature of ducks, they can turn up in all sorts of unique and new areas!

It was an escapee from someone’s personal zoo.

  • Many people have private collections of exotic animals from around the world. Ducks with fancy plumage are often popular additions until they escape and end up at your local pond or marsh.

Do you need additional help identifying ducks you have seen?

If so, one of these field guides should be able to help you!

Which of these ducks have you seen before in Tennessee?

Leave a comment below!

To learn more about other water birds near you, check out these guides!

The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!

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