Even though these types of lists are always subjective, here’s what most hunters would agree are the most popular duck species.
There are at least twenty-nine types of native ducks in North America. Some of these ducks are harder to find than others, but American waterfowl hunters definitely have a lot of choices. Some ducks are hunted because of their rarity, others because of their looks, and some based on the taste of their meat. In truth, most are hunted because they are what happens to fly past the blind.
Nonetheless, everyone has their favorite duck species or preference.
Let’s look at 10 ducks most hunters would love to see fly by early in the morning.
10. Harlequin Duck
Here’s a duck that some people might not even know exists! Found from Alaska all the way down to Washington, these cold-weather ducks are unmistakable at a glance.
Unlike most of the ducks on this list, Harlequin are “Sea Ducks” meaning that they spend much of their time around the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Hunting Harlequin is a completely different experience than your typical duck hunt. The Alaska state bag limit for non-residents is four Harlequin per year. You’re not going to fill a freezer hunting them, but you will be sure to make memories you’ll never forget.
Canvasbacks are a favorite among American duck hunters for their large size, beautiful appearance, and great tasting meat. Weighing 3.5 pounds or more and having a wingspan of almost three feet across, the Canvasback is America’s largest diving duck.
Canvasbacks are often found in rafts of 1,000 or more, so hunting them is really about putting out a large enough spread to attract their attention. These gorgeous ducks can be hunted everywhere from Wisconsin to Texas, but Louisiana regularly harvests the most “Cans” out of any state, including the 2020-21 season.
Another diving duck, redheads are fast-flying, beautiful ducks. Since they are both feeders, it’s fairly common to be hunting for Canvasbacks and have Redheads fly into a spread, and vice versa. Redheads can be found all around the U.S., however, it’s estimated that over 80% of America’s Redhead population winters in the Laguna Madre, which is a small part of South Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.
While Gadwalls might not be the prettiest duck on this list, they are very common throughout the southern United States, especially during the winter. When setting up for Gadwalls, keep in mind their laid-back demeanor compared to some other, more aggressive species. Because of this, it’s important to stage more of a relaxed and refugee-like decoy spread with minimal movement. A large majority of Gadwalls winter in Louisiana, but they can also be found in many other southern states.
6. American Black Ducks
The Black Duck is similar in size and color to a female Mallard, but is slightly darker and does not have any white on its wing plumage. The males and females look very similar, with one of the key differences being that the male’s bill is yellow and the female’s is a dull green color. With harvest numbers being around the 115,000 mark every year, they are a challenge to find and hunt. Any hunter that has a black duck on their wall should be extremely proud.
Black Ducks can be found all along the eastern half of the United States, breeding in Maine and Canada and wintering as far south as northern Florida. For the best hunting, look no further than Maryland, as they harvested the most Black Ducks in the 2020-21 season.
5. Northern Pintails
From their distinct whistle call to their narrow wings and long tail feathers, it’s hard to not love the Pintail. While the calls are different, hunters will often hunt both Mallards and Pintails at the same time.
Pintails breed in the north-central United States and Canada. During the winter they can be found in the southern states like Texas and Louisiana. While both of those states are good, the best state to hunt Pintails in is California. They dominated Pintail harvests with over 102,000 in the 2020-21 season.
If you were to ask a random person on the street to describe what a duck looks like, the features they will most likely point out are orange webbed feet, a yellow bill, and a green head. This is because the most common wild duck in America is the Mallard. With their green heads and distinct call, they’re hard to misidentify.
Mallards have and continue to be a staple in American hunting with over 2.9 million harvested in the 2019-2020 hunting season, the most out of all species of ducks in the country. They can be found all around the U.S. depending on the time of year, but if you want the most action out of a Mallard hunt, Arkansas harvests record numbers of Mallards year in and year out.
3. Green-Winged Teal
“Here and Gone” is the motto for the Green-Winged Teal. Unlike most other ducks, they don’t fly high and circle overhead as they come in. Instead, these small ducks fly low and come in fast. Speaking of small, they have an average length of just over 14 inches and an average weight of just over half a pound. This makes Green-Winged Teal the smallest puddle ducks in America.
They are easily recognized in the air by their small size and brown head with a green stripe running on either side of their head. Of course, the most noticeable feature is their namesake, the green feathers on the back half of their wings, which are called wing patches (or “specula”). While these ducks will breed in Canada and the northern Midwest, they wander all across the southern United States and all the way down to Mexico.
2. Cinnamon Teal
The next duck on our list is is the Cinnamon Teal, another one that is unmistakable from any other species. The drakes have a red body, head, and neck, which is only broken up by a blue patch on the shoulder and a white stripe on the wing. However, the hens are a duller brown color. Cinnamon Teal are found in the western parts of the United States and will breed near the Great Salt Lake and California. They will winter in southern Texas and Arizona, all the way to southern Mexico.
1. Wood Ducks
The Wood Duck has a certain charm and beauty that is hard to put into words. Wood Ducks are found around most of the United States and are typically found in marshy woodlands. They make a distinct whistling noise that even the most novice of hunters can identify.
They are small but gorgeous birds, typically weighing around a pound and a half. Because of their widespread availability and their distinct looks, they are a favorite amongst many waterfowl hunters.
What’s Your Favorite Duck Species to Hunt?
While there are certain species we left out that are favorites to some, these 10 seem to stand out for a majority of U.S. waterfowl hunters. This list was hard to narrow down simply because they are all fun to hunt for different reasons! While hunting exotic Harlequins might be exciting, so is having a Green-Wing buzz past your set up below the treetops at crazy speeds, or an afternoon of Mallard hunting with your buddies.
There is no “best duck” to hunt for everyone, go out and hunt them all, and find what you like!
NEXT: FULL BODY VS SILHOUETTE DECOYS FOR WATERFOWL: PROS AND CONS FOR GOOSE HUNTERS
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