Missouri provides key stopovers for numerous species of birds, especially waterfowl, during the spring and fall.
Turn your eyes to the sky at any one of the 10 National Wildlife Refuges in the Show-Me State during peak migration and you’re bound to see some waterfowl.
Missouri also boasts hundreds of inland lakes, long stretches along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and over a million acres of national forest as waterfowl and wildlife havens and habitats.
If you’re looking for a list of recognizable ducks in Missouri, you’ve come to the right place. And if you’re also looking for other types of birds you might see in Missouri, click here.
This is not a full list of every duck to ever set foot (or wing) in the state of Missouri, but rather a list of the 20 you’re most likely to see.
Let’s get started.
All measurements are courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, a great bird identification resource for ducks and other birds of North America.
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Length: 19.7-25.6 inches
- Weight: 35.3-45.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 32.3-37.4 inches
We start with the humble mallard. One of the most abundant ducks across the United States, mallards are frequently seen in parks, ponds, wetlands, and anywhere in between.
Drakes (mature males) have a signature green head, yellow bills, and large gray bodies. Females don’t stand out quite as much, with brown bodies and orange bills marked with a grayish color.
Mallards can be seen all over Missouri, from wild spaces like refuges to big-city parks in major metropolitan areas like St. Louis and Kansas City.
- Aix sponsa
- Length: 18.5-21.3 inches
- Weight: 16-30.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 26-28.7 inches
Wood duck drakes are distinguished by their signature crests, accentuated by sharp lines and beautiful colors.
They have faces that are a rich green on top and black underneath. Crisp white lines separate their heads from their brown chests.
Females have a crest on the back of their head, but without the deep browns and greens of the male. Instead, they have gray bodies and heads with a white oval around their eyes.
Wood ducks nest in tree cavities and may also be found using nest boxes near the water’s edge. Because they require trees to nest, you’re likely to find wood ducks on rivers, marshes, and quiet lakes where trees are present.
Wood ducks are year-round residents of Missouri.
American Black Duck
- Anas rubripes
- Length: 21.3-23.2 inches
- Weight: 25.4-57.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 34.6-37.4 inches
The American black duck looks similar to a mallard female, and often hybridizes and flocks with them, making it difficult to identify one.
Males have darker sides with light brown heads and yellow bills. Females have similarly pale heads with dark brown bodies and olive-colored bills.
American black ducks breed in the American northeast and eastern Canada. You are most likely to see one in eastern Missouri during the non-breeding season.
The Mississippi River and areas surrounding it are often some of the most common places to see American black ducks in Missouri, according to eBird reports.
- Mareca strepera
- Length: 18.1-22.4 inches
- Weight: 17.6-44.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.1 inches
Gadwall are most likely to be seen in Missouri during spring and fall migration periods in places like marshes, ponds, and the calm waters of lakes, where they can feast on submerged vegetation.
They may also be seen occasionally during the winter, mostly in southern Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Female gadwall are very difficult to tell apart from female mallards. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds suggests looking for a thinner, darker bill on the female gadwall, but this tiny difference can be easy to miss while in the field.
Female mallards have blue patches on their wings that gadwall females do not, so that’s another thing you can look out for.
The gadwall male doesn’t have the flashy color patterns of other males on this list, with a grayish body, light brown head, and black bill.
- Spatula discors
- Length: 14.2-16.1 inches
- Weight: 8.1-19.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 22.1-24.4 inches
Blue-winged teals have striking blue-gray heads with bold, white crescent marks separating their bills and eyes.
Females are brown with black bills with a lighter head, a darker horizontal line passing through the eye area, and a black bill.
Some blue-winged teals breed in certain areas of Missouri, while others are seen passing through during spring and fall migration periods.
Blue-winged teals are evenly spread across Missouri in marshes, ponds, lakes, and rivers, including large rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi.
- Anas crecca
- Length: 12.2-15.3 inches
- Weight: 4.9-17.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 20.5-23.2 inches
The smallest duck on this list is the little green-winged teal.
Males have gray bodies and rounded chestnut-brown heads. They have black bills and a signature green eye patch that surrounds the eye and shoots toward the back of the head.
Females are brown with a white stripe near the tail. They have black bills and a green wing patch visible in flight.
Green-winged teals are common migrants in Missouri, and some will spend the winter in southern Missouri. During both migration and winter, look for them in shallow wetlands.
- Mareca americana
- Length: 16.5-23.2 inches
- Weight: 19.1-46.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.1 inches
The American wigeon drake has a similar green eye patch to the green-winged teal, but with a gray face, light beak, and white cap. They have mostly pale brown bodies.
Females have gray heads with similarly light beaks that are capped in black. Their eyes are surrounded by dark colors.
Wigeons are mostly migratory species in the state, along with some uncommon winter stayovers in southern Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Look for them in streams, rivers large and small, and wetlands during peak migration periods.
- Anas acuta
- Length: 20.1-29.9 inches
- Weight: 17.6-51.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 34 inches
One of the most numerous duck species on the planet, according to the National Audubon Society, mature male pintails are unmistakable birds, with chocolate-brown heads, long white necks, and thin tails that curve upwards from behind them.
Females are less identifiable, with similar features to other female ducks on this list. They have plain, light tan faces and dark bills.
The Missouri Department of Conservation says some pintails have been recorded breeding in the state, although they’re primarily migrants through the Show-Me State.
These dabbling ducks are mostly found in shallow water, including marshes, ponds, and farm fields.
One particularly popular place to spot pintails in southeastern Missouri is the Duck Creek Conservation area, according to eBird reports.
- Spatula clypeata
- Length: 17.3-20.1 inches
- Weight: 14.1-28.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 27.2-33.1 inches
Northern shovelers can be picked out by their bulky bills that are unlike any other duck on this list. On males, the bills are black, while females’ bills are orange.
These bills help them forage for their favorite food in shallow water, like in flooded agricultural fields and marshes.
Males also have striking color patterns, including rich green heads, yellow eyes, and bodies of white and brown.
Females are brown like many other species, but that large bill is still there to help you identify one while in the field.
While shovelers are mostly a species that stops over on their migration routes, the Missouri Department of Conservation says that a couple of pairs will nest at large marshes, including Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, located along Highway 29 between Kansas City and Omaha.
During migration, other areas along the Mississippi River can also be fruitful places to observe shovelers, according to eBird users.
Ducks That Dive
- Aythya americana
- Length: 16.5-21.3 inches
- Weight: 22.2-52.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 29.5-31.1 inches
Redhead drakes have copper-brown heads and their light gray bills are tipped in black. Their bodies are light gray with black necks.
Redheads have rounded backs of their heads and steep foreheads, which can help you in comparison to a similarly patterned canvasback male.
Female redheads are a mix of browns with dark bills and some lighter spots around their faces.
Redheads may winter in Missouri, but they are migration visitors for most of the state.
They can be found on lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, and rivers like the Mississippi.
Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary near St. Charles is one common place to see them from fall to spring, according to eBird reports.
- Aythya valisineria
- Length: 18-9-22.1 inches
- Weight: 30.4-56 ounces
- Wingspan: 31.1-35 inches
Canvasback males have red heads and black chests like redhead ducks, but they have a couple of key differences that can help you tell them apart while in the field.
The first, and probably easiest to see, is that they have mostly white bodies. They also have red eyes and gently sloping foreheads compared to the steep forehead of the redhead.
Females have the same gently sloping forehead, which continues when it meets a long, thin bill. Females have grayish bodies as well as brown heads and chests.
The Missouri Department of Conservation says canvasbacks are most common along the Mississippi River and are rare in the rest of the state. They are common migrants, though some will stay the entire winter.
- Aythya marila
- Length: 15.3-22.1 inches
- Weight: 25.6-48 ounces
- Wingspan: 28.4-31.1 inches
Male greater scaup have black heads, white sides, and yellow eyes. In the right lighting, their head may appear an iridescent dark green, although it mostly looks black. They have light gray bills.
Females are brown with yellow eyes and a large, white patch separating their bill from the rest of their face.
These expert diving ducks are distinguished from the lesser scaup, a more common Missouri sighting, by their rounded heads.
Greater scaup are uncommon migration and winter sightings in Missouri.
- Aythya affinis
- Length: 15.3-18.1 inches
- Weight: 16-38.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 26.8-30.7 inches
Lesser scaup are much more common than greater scaup in Missouri, although their numbers have declined nearly 60 percent since the 1960s, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The backs of their heads are steep, as opposed to the lesser scaup’s rounded head.
Their heads are iridescent purple in good lighting, but will otherwise match the black of their necks, chests, and tails.
Females look very similar to female lesser scaup, with brown bodies up through their heads. They have gray bills and white surrounding the base of their bills.
Despite population declines, lesser scaup are often observed in large numbers, partially because they gather in sizable groups. Look for them in large open lakes, rivers, and ponds.
- Aythya collaris
- Length: 15.3-18.1 inches
- Weight: 17.3-32.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 24.4-24.8 inches
Ring-necked ducks have somewhat similar color patterns to that of scaup. Males are mostly black with gray sides, yellow eyes, and a gray bill that’s interrupted by two white rings: one close to the tip and the other at its base.
Females are a brown tint with lighter sides and a white ring around each eye. They have white patches around the base of their strong bills as well, like a female scaup.
Ring-necked ducks are commonly observed during migration periods and in the winter, especially in southern parts of the state.
The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends looking for them at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge or Duck Creek Conservation Area, both in southeastern Missouri, during the winter.
- Bucephala clangula
- Length: 15.8-20.1 inches
- Weight: 21.2-45.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 30.3-32.7 inches
Common goldeneyes are not the only birds on this list with yellow eyes. Fortunately, there is more than one way to identify these neat birds.
On males, the first way is a circle patch below the eye, next to the bill. Their heads are a dark green-black, and their bodies are mostly white, with white barring on their sides where white meets a black back.
Females have chocolate brown heads with gray bodies. Their yellow eyes and yellow-tipped bills are notable.
Common goldeneyes are frequent migrants and winter residents of Missouri.
They can be found in open bodies of water across the state, from lakes to rivers, including near major cities like Kansas City and St. Louis.
Some eBird users have reported them in large numbers near the Smithville Lake area north of Kansas City.
They’re rarely seen on land, so keep your eyes trained on open water, as they are usually spotted when they dive for food and then resurface.
- Bucephala albeola
- Length: 12.6-15.8 inches
- Weight: 9.6-22.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 21.6 inches
Another duck most commonly seen diving on lakes and rivers is the smaller bufflehead.
These relatively small ducks have large, rounded heads. Males have purple-ish black heads with a large pie slice of white taken out of them.
Females can be identified by the large horizontal white patch running along the sides of their faces.
Although they’re not frequently seen, the bufflehead’s winter range does stretch into Missouri.
A couple of places to start when looking for a bufflehead are lakes, rivers, and marshes surrounding the St. Louis area during migration and the winter months, as well as Smithville Lake, according to eBird reports.
- Oxyura jamaicensis
- Length: 13.8-16.9 inches
- Weight: 10.6-30 ounces
- Wingspan: 22.1-24.4 inches
Ruddy ducks are relatively small ducks found in Missouri during migration and winter periods, more commonly in migration than in winter as they head south to coastal wintering grounds.
Breeding plumage ruddy ducks are very distinct birds, with still tails and baby blue bills. Non-breeding males look similar, with dark caps, white faces, and black bills.
Females have the same shaped bills, only they remain black. Their light faces are topped with brown caps and have streaks of black running horizontally across them.
- Mergus merganser
- Length: 21.3-27.9 inches
- Weight: 31.8-76.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.9 inches
Common mergansers are large diving ducks found on rivers and lakes, in migration and winter months in Missouri.
Males have white bodies and dark green heads, but the standout might be their thin, red bills.
Females also have red bills with red-brown heads that come to a crest in the back.
Ducks of the merganser species will likely look larger than other ducks on the list when seen in the field. They are sometimes confused with loons because of their long body shape and long dives.
According to the University of Michigan, they’re able to remain underwater for up to two minutes, although most dives are shorter than that.
Look for them on large rivers and lakes, sometimes mixed into larger flocks that may include other birds.
- Mergus serrator
- Length: 20.1-25.2 inches
- Weight: 28.2-47.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 26-29.1 inches
Red-breasted mergansers breed in mostly northern North America’s boreal forests, with places like Upper Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maine the furthest south their breeding range extends.
They’re a rare migrant to Missouri on their way to and from the coasts.
They have long, red bills, and both sexes have long, wispy tops of their heads. Breeding males have black heads and red eyes.
Immature males and females have gray bodies with light reddish heads.
- Lophodytes cucullatus
- Length: 15-8.-19.3 inches
- Weight: 16-31 ounces
- Wingspan: 23.6-26 inches
Hooded mergansers are identified by their signature crest. On females, their crests are gray and brown, while males have black and white heads.
Hooded mergansers may be seen in some parts of the state all year round.
They’re cavity nesters, so your best shot when looking for them in the summer is near wooded lakes, rivers, and streams.
In winter, they’re most commonly seen in southern Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.