Washington’s coastal location makes it a fantastic place to view North American waterfowl at any time of the year, from migrating and wintering northern waterfowl to year-round residents.
There are 27 main species of ducks you are most likely to encounter in Washington or its coastal waters, although some other species may occasionally be spotted in the state.
Before we get to the ducks, here is a list of other fun birds you might see in the Evergreen State.
All measurements are via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, a great resource for more information about all the birds listed here.
Now, on to the ducks.
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Length: 19.7-25.6 inches
- Weight: 35.3-45.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 32.3-37.4 inches
One duck that you’ll find on every state’s bird list across the United States is the mallard, a mainstay in public parks, wetlands, and other water bodies across the country and beyond.
Mallards are year-round residents in all parts of Washington.
Mallard drakes (adult males) have green heads and yellow bills, while hens (adult females) have brown bodies and heads with bills that are a mix of orange and dark gray.
Mallards are common in areas occupied by humans. In the spring, you may see them with groups of their yellow and brown ducklings following close behind.
- Mareca strepera
- Length: 18.1-22.4 inches
- Weight: 17.6-44.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.1 inches
The male gadwall is less colorful than many males on this list, but its intricate markings, especially those near its chest, are unique enough that you should be able to tell it from most female ducks.
They have delicate patterns of gray and brown, with black rear ends and bills.
Females look extremely similar to mallards, but with a slightly more slender bill and a small white wing patch compared to the mallard’s white-tipped blue patch.
Gadwall are year-round residents in parts of Washington, largely near the coast and west of the Cascade Range, in eastern Washington’s Columbia Basin.
They can be found anywhere from city parks and agricultural fields to rivers and marshes.
- Spatula discors
- Length: 14.2-16.1 inches
- Weight: 8.1-19.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 22.1-24.4 inches
Blue-winged teal drakes are rather small, but still striking birds, with blue-gray heads that come to an end in a white crescent.
In flight, their wings open up to display large powder-blue and green wing patches.
Females are less distinctive. They have brown bodies with black bills. Their brown heads get a little bit darker on their cap and on a streak running horizontally through the eye.
Washington is on the western edge of the blue-winged teal’s breeding range. These birds love to extend their southern winter vacation in places like South and Central America, so they’re one of the earliest birds to migrate in fall and one of the latest to head north in spring.
When they are in Washington during the breeding season, look for them in marshes like those at wildlife refuges, as well as other shallow water like flooded fields in the Columbia Basin.
- Spatula cyanoptera
- Length: 15.1-16.9 inches
- Weight: 11.8-14.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 21.3-22.4 inches
The cinnamon teal is as aptly named a duck as we find in North America.
The male cinnamon teal is a rusty but also bright shade of brown that sticks out in a crowd, with red eyes and black bills. When molting, they will lose a little bit of their color, but still retain a reddish tint.
Females are less bold, with a light shade of brown similar to that of a female blue-winged teal. Cinnamon teals have larger bills than blue-winged teals, with a slightly more faint eye line and cap.
Cinnamon teals are a western North American species, though there is a separate population in southern South America. Their breeding range includes all of Washington.
During the breeding months, they’re most common in shallow wetlands and marshes.
- Anas crecca
- Length: 12.2-15.3 inches
- Weight: 4.9-17.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 20.5-23.2 inches
North America’s smallest dabbling duck is the green-winged teal.
Males have gray bodies with a green strip on their side that becomes more of a broad patch when in flight.
They also have chestnut-brown heads with a green eye patch that extends toward the back of the head.
Females are small, modestly colored brown birds, though they also display a green wing patch when in flight.
Western Washington is within the green-winged teal’s year-round range, while the eastern half of the Evergreen State is a wintering ground for green-winged teals.
They’re typically found in shallow water, from flooded fields and prairies to marshlands.
- Mareca americana
- Length: 16.5-23.2 inches
- Weight: 19.1-46.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.1 inches
Take the male green-winged teal’s green eye patch and put it on a larger bird of mostly gray and brown colors and you have an American wigeon.
Eclipse males, referring to the male in the time following breeding, will briefly lose their green eye patch and will look similar to females, with a red-brown body.
Female wigeons have tan bodies and gray heads, with each eye their standout feature. They have what All About Birds aptly describes as a “dark smudge” around the eye. It isn’t a fully dark black patch, but it is noticeably darker than the rest of the face and head.
American wigeons will stay throughout the year in certain parts of Washington, while the western coast provides winter habitat.
Look for them anywhere from marshes and wetlands to larger lakes and saltwater bays.
Users of eBird report them across the state, from northwestern bays to where the Snake River and Columbia River meet near Kennewick.
- Mareca penelope
- Length: 17.72-22.83 inches
- Weight: 14.63-34.22 ounces
- Wingspan: 29.53-33.86 inches
(Measurements courtesy of the University of Michigan’s BioKids)
Male Eurasian wigeons don’t have the green eye patch that American wigeons do. Instead, their heads are a rich brown with a light streak extending from their bill back over the head.
Females can be distinguished from their American relatives by their color, as they’re typically a more reddish tint.
Eurasian wigeons are a rare species that migrate not just north to south, but also east and west. North America sees wigeons in the winter coming over from across the ocean. The birds in Washington likely travel from Russia and western Asia, according to All About Birds.
They’re most likely to be seen in western Washington around bays and other inlets, though there are sporadic sightings in other areas of the state.
- Anas acuta
- Length: 20.1-29.9 inches
- Weight: 17.6-51.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 34 inches
Northern pintail males are almost unmistakable birds, with brown heads and crisply-colored, long white necks.
The drake’s mostly gray bodies end with sleek black tail feathers that point upwards while in the water and straight out while in flight.
Breeding males also have a green wing patch that can be seen in flight.
Northern pintails lack such identifiable markings. While they have intricately patterned bodies, their faces, and heads are rather plain, without much to give them away.
They don’t have the long vertical tails that drakes do, but hens do have a tail and a proportionately longer neck than most birds.
The pintail’s range includes not just North America, but much of Asia and Europe as well. Despite a drop of seven million birds over the last 40 years, according to the National Wildlife Federation, the pintail population is still one of the highest worldwide totals.
They nest in fields and prairies. The loss of those habitats worldwide could be contributing to their overall decline.
Look for them in wetlands, grasslands, and other marshy areas throughout the breeding season, largely in eastern Washington. In the winter, migrating birds will seek refuge and shelter in the many bays and inlets off the oceanfront.
- Spatula clypeata
- Length: 17.3-20.1 inches
- Weight: 14.1-28.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 27.2-33.1 inches
We move from the pintail, a bird whose signature feature is on its behind, to the northern shoveler, whose standout is at the front.
The shoveler’s heavy bill is easily the best way to identify this bird. A normal-sized bird otherwise, shoveler’s bills are very bulky.
Breeding males have black bills with yellow eyes piercing through beautiful green heads. They have chestnut brown sides and white fronts. Non-breeding males will lose their signature colors but retain their large black bills to help you identify them.
Females don’t have so many signature markings, but their large orange bills still stick out in a crowd.
Look for shovelers in wetlands or other shallow waterways, sweeping their bills for food under the water’s surface.
- Aix sponsa
- Length: 18.5-21.3 inches
- Weight: 16-30.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 26-28.7 inches
Wood ducks stand alone amongst native North American birds in the Aix genus, joined only by the Mandarin duck, a species native to Asia.
They have unique crests and color patterns that can help you easily identify them while in the field. Males have crested green heads that feature crisp white lines and rich brown bodies. Their eyes are red and their bills are orange.
Females feature more muted color patterns, with gray heads that feature a crest at the back and white eye rings. Their bodies are mostly brown with a dark blue speculum (wing patch).
Wood ducks are year-round residents in almost all of Washington. They are cavity nesters, meaning they build their nests in holes in trees. With this in mind, they’re most commonly seen around wooded lakes, rivers, and marshes where they have access to nesting habitats.
They are also common users of nest boxes placed near the water’s edge.
Ducks That Dive
- Aythya americana
- Length: 16.5-21.3 inches
- Weight: 22.2-52.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 29.5-31.1 inches
The first diving duck on our list is the redhead, named for males’ cinnamon-red heads.
Their red heads, black chests, and gray sides are in well-defined patterns, though they lose some of that structure during the eclipse months.
Females are brown across the board, with lighter colors on the bottom and darker colors on top. A female’s face may appear splotchy, with black eyes and a black bill.
Redheads are primarily a species of eastern Washington, which forms the westernmost edge of their breeding range, not including those in Alaska.
Redheads breed in prairies and marshes throughout the western Midwest through the Rocky Mountain range.
According to the BirdWeb from the Seattle Audubon Society, redheads are one of the most common ducks east of the Columbia River during the breeding season.
- Aythya valisineria
- Length: 18-9-22.1 inches
- Weight: 30.4-56 ounces
- Wingspan: 31.1-35 inches
In breeding plumage, canvasbacks have cinnamon-red heads with piercing red eyes. Their bodies are white, connected to their red head and neck by a black chest.
Females have similar patterns, but with brown heads instead of red, and bodies that are more of a light gray than white.
Both the male and female have a more gradually sloping forehead than that of the redhead, which has a rounded back of the head and a steep front.
Their bills are all black, which is also different from the silver bill tipped in black that a redhead has.
Canvasbacks are less common in Washington than redheads. Except for a small area in western Washington, they are mostly a migratory or winter species.
If you’re looking for canvasbacks in the state, BirdWeb suggests places like Potholes Reservoir, Winchester Wasteway, and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, all in eastern Washington.
- Aythya marila
- Length: 15.3-22.1 inches
- Weight: 25.6-48 ounces
- Wingspan: 28.4-31.1 inches
Greater scaup breed up in the tundra regions of North America, from Alaska to eastern Canada, as well as areas like northern Russia and Scandinavia.
For Washington purposes, the greater scaup is a migratory and winter visitor. While most sightings are along the West Coast, they are sometimes found through central Washington.
Males have iridescent green heads that may just look black, depending on the lighting. They have yellow eyes with white sides and patterned gray backs.
Females are mostly brown with large gray bills that are surrounded by white. Like the males, their eyes are yellow.
- Aythya affinis
- Length: 15.3-18.1 inches
- Weight: 16-38.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 26.8-30.7 inches
The lesser scaup is one of the most abundant duck species in the northwest, according to BirdWeb.
They can be found across Washington. Though they stay year-round in eastern Washington, they’re rare breeders, BirdWeb states. They are common in western Washington during the winter.
While greater scaup are primarily saltwater birds, lesser scaup are more likely to be seen throughout the state’s fresh water.
Lesser scaup and greater scaup can be very difficult to tell apart. They both have light bills, yellow eyes, and very similar color patterns.
Lesser scaup have a steeper back of the head compared to the round head of greater scaup, but this can be tough to judge through a set of binoculars.
The lesser scaup has a couple of other subtle differences, according to the National Audubon Society’s guide to ID’ing them.
Between them, the lesser scaup is smaller, with a neck that looks longer because of the bird’s head shape. Males’ sides look less pure white than the greater scaup’s.
Female lesser scaup have more light patterns on the sides of their bodies, similar to that of the male, although the rest of their body is brown, not black. Like greater scaup, they have white around their bills.
- Aythya collaris
- Length: 15.3-18.1 inches
- Weight: 17.3-32.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 24.4-24.8 inches
Ring-necked ducks look somewhat similar to scaup, color and pattern-wise.
Males are mostly black, save for their gray sides that turn more white as they come to their front border. Their gray bills are tipped in black, with white rings around the base and just before the tip.
In non-breeding plumage, these lines may become less crisp, though the basic pattern is still the same.
Females have gray faces and gray bills. Like the male, the ring-necked female’s bill is tipped in black just beyond a white ring. Their bodies are dark on top with brown underneath.
Ring-necked ducks are year-round residents of the Evergreen State. They breed in marshes, wetlands, and other shallow water, and they remain in mostly shallow water throughout the winter.
- Bucephala clangula
- Length: 15.8-20.1 inches
- Weight: 21.2-45.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 30.3-32.7 inches
Common goldeneye drakes have black backs and white sides and breasts, with white barring where the two colors meet.
Their green-black iridescent heads are interrupted by golden eyes and a signature white spot alongside a black bill.
Hens still have the signature golden eye, instead over a chocolate brown head. Their mostly black bills are tipped with an orange-yellow color. They have mostly gray bodies.
Washington is squarely in the common goldeneye’s non-breeding range, meaning you’re most likely to see them in the non-summer months.
The different channels and waterways of the Salish Sea north of Seattle and many areas along the winding Columbia River provide common sightings of goldeneyes, according to eBird users.
- Bucephala islandica
- Length: 16.9-19.1 inches
- Weight: 37.9-46.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 27.6-28.7 inches
Barrow’s goldeneye males have a golden eye and generally similar patterns to the common goldeneye, but there are a couple of key differences to help you tell them apart.
The first is the shape of the white mark near the bill. On Barrow’s goldeneyes, that patch is more crescent-shaped than the mostly rounded patch of the common goldeneye.
Their heads are also more purple-ish than green-ish, with a white neck and smaller white bars on the wings than a common goldeneye.
The female Barrow’s has a shorter bill than that of the common goldeneye, typically with more orange color on it.
While the common goldeneye can be seen across much of the United States, the Barrow’s goldeneye is a quintessential northwestern bird.
Their summer range runs through western Canada up into Alaska, with year-round habitation in certain areas of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.
Most of the wintering Barrow’s goldeneyes in Washington are on Puget Sound bays, as well as some in ice-free lakes and rivers like the Columbia River, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
These sea ducks move inland to nest in cavities during the breeding season and have been confirmed to breed in northeastern Washington, the Cascades, and the Olympic Mountains, according to the WDFW.
- Bucephala albeola
- Length: 12.6-15.8 inches
- Weight: 9.6-22.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 21.6 inches
Buffleheads are small diving ducks with large heads and identifiable markings on both males and females.
Males have crisp colors, with white sides and black backs. Their rounded heads have a large white portion on the back side, often extending all the way to the eye. The rest of the head is an iridescent mix of purple and green.
Females are most commonly identified by a long white patch running horizontally from just behind the eye toward the back of the head.
Much of Washington provides only winter habitat to buffleheads, though some may spend the summers in the Columbia Basin. As cavity nesters, buffleheads nest in tree holes created by woodpeckers and are also one duck that will occupy nest boxes placed near suitable water habitats and food sources.
In the winter, they’re more likely to be seen in saltwater bays and other coastal habitats.
- Histrionicus histrionicus
- Length: 13.4-18.1 inches
- Weight: 17.3-26.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 22.1-26 inches
These small ducks are beautifully painted during the breeding season, with slate gray bodies adorned with strokes of white, orange, and blue that set them apart from any other duck on the planet.
In the non-breeding season, males lose much of their color. They keep some white and blue-gray around their heads and chests, with their bodies turning to a brownish gray.
Females are brown with black bills and two white spots. One is a small round patch behind the eye and the other is a less-defined white spot between the bill and eye.
This can help you tell one from a female bufflehead, which has just one stretched white patch along the side of its face.
Harlequin ducks are most common around northwestern Washington along the bays of Puget Sound and the rest of the Salish Sea.
- Clangula hyemalis
- Length: 15.8-18.5 inches
- Weight: 22.9-38.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 27.9-28.4 inches
Long-tailed ducks feature long, wispy tail feathers matched only by the northern pintail.
Breeding males have mostly black heads and necks, save for a white area extending out from their eyes. In the non-breeding season, that changes, with a mostly white head and neck and a light tan face. Washington birders would see these birds in their non-breeding plumage.
Non-breeding females have almost entirely white heads save for a brown facial patch that’s not super well-defined. They have brown bodies.
Despite a serious drop in numbers, you still have a chance of catching a glimpse of a long-tailed duck along Washington coastal waters during the winter.
According to the WDFW, long-tailed duck populations in Puget Sound have dropped as much as 94 percent since 1978-79 and are now estimated at about 5,200 ducks.
- Oxyura jamaicensis
- Length: 13.8-16.9 inches
- Weight: 10.6-30 ounces
- Wingspan: 22.1-24.4 inches
Ruddy ducks are rather small diving ducks. Breeding males, known for their baby blue bills, have crisp colors, with a head divided between white and black and a rich brown body. Their tails are longer than most ducks and stick upward while in the water.
Outside of the breeding season, males will lose their signature look, with most of their color fading to a light brown and their blue bills going black.
Females are small brown ducks with thick bills. The female’s head cap is a darker brown than the rest of its light face, with a dark stripe that runs parallel to the cap underneath each eye.
Their winter range includes western Washington, while some may spend their summers in the eastern half of the Evergreen State.
While ruddy ducks are spotted across the state, one area where people report them in large numbers on eBird is near where the Okanogan River and Lake Pateros meet in northern Washington.
- Mergus merganser
- Length: 21.3-27.9 inches
- Weight: 31.8-76.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.9 inches
Common mergansers are sometimes confused with loons from afar due to their long shape and constant diving for fish below the water’s surface.
The word merganser comes from Latin and translates roughly to “plunging goose,” according to All About Birds.
These large ducks have white bodies with black backs, but males’ green heads and sleek red bills set them apart, while females are a pretty light gray. Females still have a red bill, with a contrasting bronze head and a crest at the back.
All of Washington is within the beautiful common merganser’s range. They’re most common along rivers, especially wooded ones, as they are cavity nesters.
You may get a common merganser to use a nest box placed near the water’s edge, but keep in mind it will have to be fairly large with a decent size opening for these large birds to make it their own.
- Mergus serrator
- Length: 20.1-25.2 inches
- Weight: 28.2-47.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 26-29.1 inches
The second of our three merganser species native to North America is the red-breasted merganser.
Female red-breasted mergansers look fairly similar to female common mergansers, with a few simple differences.
Common mergansers have a distinct border between their white necks and red heads, while red-breasted mergansers have gray necks that loosely meet a red head.
Female common mergansers also have a white patch under the bill that red-breasted mergansers do not.
You can tell a male red-breasted merganser from a common merganser by its wispy green feathers on the back of the head, red chest, gray sides, and red eyes.
Red-breasted mergansers breed in far northern regions, so your best bet to view one in Washington is during the winter as they congregate in coastal wintering areas.
Like many other winter waterfowl, Puget Sound and other Salish Sea areas are the most likely place to get a sight of a red-breasted merganser.
- Lophodytes cucullatus
- Length: 15-8.-19.3 inches
- Weight: 16-31 ounces
- Wingspan: 23.6-26 inches
The unique hooded merganser is a year-round resident in much of Washington.
Hooded mergansers are smaller mergansers than the other two on this list, with distinct large head crests. When fully displayed, this crest gives the birds’ heads a large rounded appearance, but they can drop back more like a traditional head crest as well.
Males have brown sides with white chests. Their black heads are interrupted by a white patch that’s large when the crest is fully displayed.
The female is light brown, with a similarly shaped crest to the male that is a little bit redder than the rest of its body.
Hooded mergansers are cavity nesters, meaning they nest in the holes of trees or snags. The best place to locate them during breeding season is near wooded streams and rivers.
In the winter, they may gather wherever there is open water, such as on protected bays.
Hooded mergansers, as well as common mergansers and some other cavity-nesting waterfowl species, are brood parasites, meaning they lay eggs in other ducks’ nests and rely on them to raise their young.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds, hooded mergansers lay up to 13 eggs at a time, but nests have been found with as many as 44 eggs in them.
- Melanitta perspicillata
- Length: 18.9-23.6 inches
- Weight: 31.8-45.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 29.9-30.3 inches
Finally, we’re on to the three species of scoter present on Washington’s border waters. Scoters are large seaducks.
Surf scoter drakes, like other scoter species, are mostly black, with several white patches around the head and neck.
The largest patch is on the back of the neck, with another on the forehead area. Their bulky bills are a mix of orange and white.
Female surf scoters have a similar body and bill shape, but with brown bodies and black bills. They have two white patches on the face, one on either side below the eye.
Surf scoters are almost exclusively found along the coastlines. In Puget sound, for example, about 80 percent of the 50,000 scoters found there during the winter are surf scoters, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In Washington, they can be found in coastal bays in northwest Washington, from areas around Puget Sound to Willapa Bay, North Bay, and the mouth of the Columbia River, among others, according to eBird reports.
- Melanitta deglandi
- Length: 18.9-22.8 inches
- Weight: 33.5-63.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 31.5 inches
White-winged scoters are a slightly rarer sighting for Washingtonians and are identified as a species of greatest conservation need by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which asks that people report all scoter observations to the department.
White-winged scoters are large ducks. Drakes are mostly black, with namesake white wings and white eyes that have a white ring around them resembling wingtip eyeliner. Their orange bill has a black knob on top of it.
Female white-winged scoters look very similar to female surf scoters, but you can see a white wing patch on the white-winged female, even at rest. They have two white face marks as well.
Most white-winged scoters in Washington are seen around Puget Sound, according to the WDFW, though total scoter numbers in the area have dropped as much as 78 percent since 1978-79, according to the department.
- Melanitta americana
- Length: 16.9-19.3 inches
- Weight: 3.4-38.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 27.6-28.4 inches
Black scoters breed along Alaskan coastlines. The black scoter is the least common scoter species on Puget Sound in winter, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, accounting for just about one percent of scoters on the waterway.
They’re also the smallest of the scoters native to North America.
The male black scoter is entirely black with a signature orange knob on top of its bill.
Females are brown with light faces that contrast against a darker cap, which separates them from the two other scoter species, which have two distinct light patches. Like other female scoters, the black scoter female has a black bill.