Do you want to learn about the types of ducks found in Bulgaria?
Well, you’ve come to the right place. As you will see, there are all kinds of colorful, beautiful, and odd-looking ducks here!
In this article, you will find descriptions, photos, and RANGE MAPS for each species. I’ve also included some fun facts about these incredible water birds. 🙂
16 types of ducks in Bulgaria!
- Anas platyrhynchos
- 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 wings, most visible when standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are the most common species in Bulgaria!
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, regardless of location.
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! 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. Northern Shoveler
- Spatula clypeata
- 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 European observers might accidentally think these ducks are Mallards. But one look up close, and you should notice the ENORMOUS spoon-shaped bill, which is how Northern Shovelers got their name.
They use their large bill to shovel and sift through mud and sand to find tasty tidbits like crustaceans, mollusks, and buried aquatic insects. Interestingly, their bill has over 100 tiny projections on the edges called lamellae that help filter out the food they want to eat. 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!
Males make a guttural “took-took” sound during courtship, when alarmed, and in flight. Females make a nasally-sounding quack.
- Mareca strepera
- 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. They 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 Bulgaria!
Unlike most other species, males don’t sport any patches of blue, green, or white plumage. Instead, look for their soft brown and gray plumage with intricate patterns. They spend most of their time in small ponds that have lots of vegetation.
Gadwalls have a funny habit of stealing food from diving ducks upon surfacing! This behavior is seen more often in the summer when 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 make quacking noises and sound similar to Mallards, except their call is a bit more high-pitched.
#4. Northern Pintail
- Anas acuta
- Slender ducks with long tails and necks and a pale black-gray bill.
- Males have cinnamon-brown heads, gray bodies, and white throats and breasts.
- Females have plain, tan heads and rufous-brown plumage on their bodies.
Northern Pintails have long neck that exaggerates their extremely pointy tail (hence the name) when in flight. Even when floating on water, their tails stick out further than their heads. Nonbreeding males and all females have shorter but still prominent pintails.
The best place to find these ducks in Bulgaria is in wetland habitats away from people. Wildlife refuges are the perfect places to start. Northern Pintails 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.
Northern Pintails only migrate at night and are incredible flyers! During migration, they reach speeds up to 77 kph (48 mph), and the record for the longest non-stop flight is 2900 km (1,800 miles).
Males have a unique call that sounds like a train whistle. Females utter low-pitched quacking “kuk” notes.
#5. Tufted Duck
- Aythya fuligula
- Males are black all over, with white sides and a white bill. They have a thin crest at the back of the head.
- Females are dark brown with slightly lighter flanks and a silvery-gray bill.
- Both sexes have golden-yellow eyes.
The easiest way to recognize male Tufted Ducks is by looking for the plume of long feathers on their heads. Their “tuft” is what this species is named for. It’s more apparent in males, but females also have longer feathers on their heads.
Tufted Ducks prefer marshy habitats with plenty of vegetation, which they use for nesting and to hide from predators. They most often dive into the water for food. Mollusks, including snails, are their primary food source, but they also eat aquatic insects and plants.
#6. Common Shelduck
- Tadorna tadorna
- Males’ bodies are a mix of black, white, and cinnamon. Their heads are black, and their bills are red, with a large knob extending over the forehead.
- Females have similar coloring as males, though less bold. They lack the knob over the forehead.
Look for these ducks in open, unforested areas near lakes and rivers in Bulgaria. During molting, you can spot groups of up to 100,000 Common Shelducks together in salt marshes! It’s quite a party when these noisy ducks get together.
In addition to remaining in large groups, this duck has an ingenious way of protecting its young from predators. If they sense a threat, the babies will dive under the water’s surface while the parents fly off, acting as a decoy. This lures the predator away while the parents circle and return to their chicks.
They have a loud, rattling call that raises and lowers in pitch and speed.
#7. Eurasian Wigeon
- Mareca penelope
- Males have a chestnut head and neck with a white forehead, pinkish breast, and gray, white, and black body.
- Females are gray and light brown overall with dots and mottling on the head and body.
The Eurasian Wigeon spends its breeding season in the north and migrates south for the winter. Interestingly, this species occasionally makes its way to North America, where it cross-breeds with the American Wigeon. Hybrids almost always look more like Eurasian Wigeons, although some keep the American Wigeon’s signature green eye patch.
This species is relatively helpless against predators, so they use safety in numbers to protect themselves. You can find nonbreeding Eurasian Wigeons in open wetlands, where they form large protective flocks. Although, you may hear this noisy species long before you see it!
Listen for the male’s sharp whistle, which sounds like “pjiew pjiew” or the female’s low “rawr” noise.
#8. Common Pochard
- Aythya ferina
- Males have a chestnut-colored head with a black neck and bill, white body, and gray tail. Their eyes are bright orange.
- Females are mottled chestnut all over, with a dark brown or gray bill.
Look for Common Pochards in Bulgaria in wet habitats with vegetation.
These long-billed ducks make their homes in marshland and near lakes. In some areas, their populations are increasing, although modern land development threatens their habitat.
Like many ducks in Bulgaria, this species is very gregarious and forms large flocks during the winter. It will even join flocks of other diving ducks, including the Tufted Duck. The most important reason for flocking behavior is to protect themselves from predators, which are much more likely to go after a single bird than a group of thousands!
Females make a gravelly growling noise, while males have a high, nasally whistle that cuts off sharply at the end.
#9. Common Eider
- Somateria mollissima
- Males have a distinctive color pattern: most of their bodies are white, with black on the top of the head and rump. In addition, they have a wash of pale green on the nape of the neck.
- Females are mottled browns, with the same wedge-shaped beak as males.
The Common Eider is the largest native duck in Bulgaria!
It can weigh up to 3.04 kg (6 lb 11 oz) and grow as long as 71 cm (28 in). In addition to its gigantic size and bulky build, you can recognize this species by its distinctive, wedge-shaped bill.
Common Eiders nest in huge colonies on coastal islands. Up to 15,000 birds will flock together in a single location to raise their young! They frequently form creches, groups of breeding mothers taking care of their ducklings as a group.
In these groups, the mothers incubate their own eggs and spend the first few weeks taking care of them alone. Then, once the ducklings leave the nest, a group of females (including the mother) teaches them to find food, avoid predators, and swim. Just like humans, these ducks know it takes a village to raise kids!
#10. Muscovy Duck
- Cairina moschata
- Both sexes are black and white, but the pattern of color is highly variable. Adults have bare skin on their faces, which looks like a pink mask. Their bills can be yellow, pink, black, or a combination of these colors.
- Males’ black feathers are iridescent, giving off a greenish sheen in the sunlight.
- Females lack the green tint and are usually more drab looking.
Identifying the Muscovy Duck can be challenging because this domesticated breed has many color variations. The easiest way to tell if you’ve seen this species is by its size since it’s larger than other ducks in Bulgaria.
Muscovy Ducks are native to South America, where they’ve been domesticated since the pre-Columbian era by Native Americans. They are bred primarily as a food source. They were originally brought to Bulgaria as farming stock, but some Muscovy Ducks escaped and established feral colonies in the wild. Interestingly, this breed is the ONLY domesticated duck that isn’t a descendant of the Mallard!
Today, there are feral populations of Muscovy Ducks found all over the world. In combination with wild subspecies, it’s one of the most widespread ducks. Their tolerance for cold weather and human presence makes them the perfect species for population growth, even outside their natural habitat. Look for Muscovy Ducks alongside lakes, rivers, and ponds in populated areas.
#11. Red-crested Pochard
- Netta rufina
- Males have bright red bills and eyes, a chestnut head, and brown, black, and white bodies.
- Females are a soft, dusty brown with a pale gray neck and a black bill with a red-orange tip.
Like other diving ducks in Bulgaria, the Red-crested Pochard is highly social and forms large flocks.
You’re likely to find them in lowland marshes, where they spend their time in the water and among low vegetation. Some populations are year-round residents, although northern ducks migrate south for the winter.
Red-crested Pochards are comfortable around people and often make their homes in city parks! However, they stay near water, so parks with rivers or lakes are always the best place to look.
Did you know that bread isn’t good for ducks? Even though many people feed ducks stale bread, it’s hard for them to digest. Instead of bread, crackers, or table scraps, try feeding ducks cracked corn, oats, rice, birdseed, frozen peas, chopped lettuce, or sliced grapes. Ducks, including Red-crested Pochards, will be grateful!
You can also listen for this duck’s distinctive call. Males make a wheezy “veht” while females give a series of rasping “vrah-vrah-vrah” noises.
#12. Red-breasted Merganser
- Mergus serrator
- Males have a dark head that shines green in the sunlight, rusty breast, black back, and white underparts.
- Females are gray-brown overall, with rusty heads.
- Both sexes have a spiky, thin crest of feathers on the back of their head.
Red-breasted Mergansers are one of the most widespread ducks across the world.
They live on four continents, spending their time in temperate and Arctic climates in the Northern Hemisphere. They breed in the far north of their range and then migrate south for the winter.
However, this species isn’t just famous for being widespread. It has the fasted recorded airspeed of any duck! It was clocked at 160 kph (100 mph) while being chased by a small airplane, breaking the previous record, which was just 122 kph (76 mph). You could even say the Red-breasted Merganser blew the record out of the water. 🙂
Partly because of their speedy flying, Red-breasted Mergansers burn calories incredibly fast. These ducks need to eat 15-20 fish per day! They spend up to five hours and dive upwards of 250 times to get all the food they need.
- Spatula querquedula
- Males are a mix of brown, gray, white, and black. Their bills are black, and they have a white stripe above the eye. In flight, a blue-green patch framed in white appears on the lower wing.
- Females have the same coloring but are much less pronounced than males.
The Garganey is a common duck in Bulgaria during the summer breeding season.
As a strict migratory species, the entire population moves south during the winter. This is unusual among ducks since most species have at least some year-round residents.
Unlike diving ducks, Garganeys forage their food from the water’s surface, skimming aquatic plants and insects. They dip their bill into the water and shake their heads often, which makes them look like they’re washing their faces. 🙂
But their feeding style isn’t the only thing that’s a little quirky about the Garganey. When calling, the male makes an exaggerated nodding motion with his head and neck, then releases a shrill clicking noise that sounds like a bug! Finally, he shakes his tail feathers rapidly as if he’s dancing. It’s truly something to watch!
#14. Ruddy Shelduck
- Tadorna ferruginea
- Both sexes are tawny orange-brown with black tail feathers and a pale head.
- Males also have iridescent green feathers under the wings and a black collar around the neck.
- Females are usually paler on the head (nearly white by the bill) and lack the collar and green feathers.
The Ruddy Shelduck is one of the most beautiful ducks in Bulgaria!
Its orange coloring and white highlights make it beautiful to look at. However, it can be tough to catch a glimpse because this unique bird is predominantly nocturnal.
Ruddy Shelducks prefer large inland lakes and reservoirs with plenty of cleared land. They’re seldom found in forested areas and prefer lowlands over mountains. Interestingly, this species doesn’t build nests for its eggs. Instead, Ruddy Shelducks use old animal burrows or tree holes for nesting sites. They often choose places far away from water, which helps protect the eggs from predators.
In my opinion, these ducks have one of the most adorable calls! They sound like a nasally “ooh-ah!” and repeat that noise as they walk the shore looking for food.
- Mergellus albellus
- Males are white overall with irregular black lines on the neck and body. In addition, they have a black patch over the eye and a black bill.
- Females are gray overall with white on the throat and a reddish-chestnut cap.
Many people describe the male Smew as having a “cracked ice” or “panda” appearance, and these are both perfect descriptions. The black eye rings on the pure white face of this duck give it a distinctly panda-like look. And the distinctive lines on its body do look like cracks in an iceberg!
Females look very different but no less distinctive. Their gray bodies contrast sharply with their reddish-brown heads, leading to their nickname of “redheaded Smew.”
This species breeds in the taiga, or boreal forests. These “snow forests,” as they are sometimes called, are filled with densely packed evergreen trees like pine and spruce. Smews rely on the trees for breeding locations since they use knot holes instead of nests. They eat fish from inland lakes and rivers and never stray too far from these water sources.
Smews are shy and easily disturbed, so if you find one in the wild, be extra cautious. You’ll have to remain still and quiet to get a good look!
#16. White-headed Duck
- Oxyura leucocephala
- Males are mottled brown over the body, with a white head. In the summertime, their bills are brilliant blue.
- Females are also mottled brown, with a black and white head and a gray-brown bill.
Although this duck in Bulgaria is named for the color of its head, that’s not its most striking feature.
It might seem unbelievable, but during the breeding season, males have a bright blue bill! This is likely used as a way to attract a mate, as a stronger bill color signals a higher breeding potential.
While females lack bright-colored bills, they have the same basic shape, making them easy to identify. White-headed Ducks live in areas with large expanses of open water. They don’t mind human-altered environments like reservoirs or drainage ponds. As a result, you’re as likely to see this species in the city as in a more remote area.
White-headed Ducks are hesitant to fly, especially while on the water. They’re much more likely to swim away from danger than to fly. Additionally, they eat the majority of their food while on the water. Even though they mostly eat aquatic vegetation, White-headed Ducks are omnivorous and eat insects, small fish, and tadpoles.
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