Do you want to learn about the types of ducks found in Iceland?
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. 🙂
15 types of ducks in Iceland!
- 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 Iceland!
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. Common Merganser
- Mergus merganser
- This fairly large duck has a long, slender orange bill with a black tip and dark eyes.
- Breeding males have a largely white body, a black back, and a mallard-like green head.
- Females and nonbreeding males sport cinnamon-colored heads and grayish-white bodies.
Due to their thin bill, Common Mergansers stand out fairly easily from most other ducks in Iceland. Their favorite food is fish, which they catch with the help of their serrated bill, but they also indulge in aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and worms.
Common Mergansers are so good at fishing that many other ducks try to steal from them when they surface. It’s common to see flocks of seagulls following them, hoping to snatch an easy meal. Even Bald Eagles have been known to rob them of their hard-earned fish!
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Naturally, these ducks nest in tree cavities that woodpeckers have carved out. Interestingly, newborn ducklings are only about a day old when they leap from the entrance to the ground, at which point the mother will lead them to water. Then, they hop into the water and immediately catch their own food. It’s a steep learning curve, but these ducklings are up for the challenge!
#3. 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 Iceland!
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.
#5. Common Goldeneye
- Bucephala clangula
- Males have dark green heads, bright yellow eyes, and distinctive white cheek patches. Their bodies are 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 eyes. Look for their white neck collar and grayish bodies.
Common Goldeneyes are expert diving ducks in Iceland.
These birds can stay underwater for up to a minute as they search for their prey, including aquatic invertebrates, fish, and fish eggs, along with seeds and tubers from submerged vegetation.
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 nest boxes in their breeding range to help provide more adequate nesting spots.
Many people refer to the Common Goldeneye as the “whistler” because their wings make distinctive whistling noises when flying. Both males and females are generally silent ducks except during courtship.
#6. 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 Iceland 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.
#7. Greater Scaup
- Aythya marila
- Males have yellow eyes, a green head, a dark chest, and a rump contrasting with the speckled gray back and white sides.
- Females have chocolatey-brown heads and warm brown bodies. Look for a bright white patch around the base of the bill.
- Both sexes have large blue-grey bills with black tips.
Greater Scaups are almost always seen in large bodies of water, where they congregate in large numbers with other Greater Scaups.
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, when you may hear males give a soft, nasally whistle.
#8. 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.
#9. 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 Iceland. 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.
#10. 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.
#11. 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 Iceland!
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!
#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.
#13. Common Scoter
- Melanitta nigra
- Males are completely black except for a small yellow patch on the bill and a ring of yellow around the eyes.
- Females are uniformly brown, with light patches on the cheeks.
Look for Common Scoters in coastal areas in Iceland. They eat mostly shellfish near the coast but will switch to eating fish and insects near fresh water.
This sea-faring species has an interesting history dating back to the 19th century. During that time, many Roman Catholics abstained from eating meat on Fridays, eating fish instead. However, fish could be hard to come by, so the Catholic church announced that Common Scoters and other “fishy tasting” birds could still be eaten. Based on that description, I think I would have passed! 🙂
One of the most impressive things about this species is the way they flock. They band into groups of hundreds of birds that stick together through rough seas and weather. This flocking behavior makes hunting and avoiding predators easier.
Here, a flock of Common Scoters pack together tightly in a line in the shallow surf and seemingly go on for miles!
#14. Long-tailed Duck
- Clangula hyemalis
- Males are predominantly white, with black and brown patches. They have exceptionally long tail feathers that curve towards their backs.
- Females are a mix of reddish and dark brown with some white on the face and neck.
- Both sexes have chestnut-colored eyes.
The male Long-tailed Duck has an unmistakable appearance thanks to its sharply contrasting colors and long, thin tail feathers. Females lack long tail feathers but have the same basic shape, including a rounded head and small bill. Look for this duck in Iceland near marshes and coastlands.
Most Long-tailed Ducks congregate on the Baltic Sea, where up to 4.5 million of these ducks spend their winters! They spend the winter eating fish and shellfish, mostly near the surface of the water. However, if they need to, they can find food by diving deep under the surface.
In fact, Long-tailed Ducks can dive deeper than any other duck in Iceland.
They use their wings in a swimming motion, similar to a penguin. Long-tailed Ducks can dive up to 146 meters (480 feet) underwater to forage for crustaceans. This species is the only duck that uses its wings to dive. I bet the penguins are jealous they can’t fly like this duck!
#15. Velvet Scoter
- Melanitta fusca
- Males are solid black except for a white ring around the eye and a white patch on the lower wings.
- Females are dark brown with light brown patches on the face and white patches on the wings.
Look for Velvet Scoters in coastal areas with plenty of room to congregate. This species is highly communal and spends most of its life in large flocks. However, during the breeding season, they prefer to stay in small groups or pairs.
Male Velvet Scoters are striking because of their deep black coloring, broken only by a thin line of white on the wing and another under the eye. Females are dark brown but have the same thick, bulky body shape and large bill.
Unfortunately, this species is vulnerable due to loss of habitat. Industrial practices, logging, and coastline development all play a role in its declining population. Even though it’s a protected species under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), it still needs more conservation help to ensure it survives.
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Which of these ducks in Iceland have you seen before?
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