Waterfowl Seen On Illinois Waterways
Here is a sampling of some of the species found in Illinois.
The American widgeon is a common visitor at migration time. The white crown on its head is the main identifying characteristic of this duck. The American black duck looks a lot like its relative the mallard. Some black duck and mallard hybrids are also seen. The black and white bufflehead is a striking duck to see. Compare the plumage with the hooded merganser pictured below.

You can identify the canvasback by its white back and sloping forehead. Canvasbacks return from migration as soon as the ice melts, sometimes in late January or early February. The American coot is not really a duck at all, but a member of the rail family. It is commonly called the "mud hen." They are quite common at migration time and fairly easy to see up close. Gadwalls are primarily found west of here, but are seen at migration time as they pass down the Mississippi River flyway.

Common goldeneye males are black and white with a white spot on the face and, of course, a golden eye. The head often takes on a green sheen. The green-winged teal is the smallest duck found in North America. In flight, it lacks the powder blue wing patches of the blue-winged teal. The long-tailed duck was formerly known as the Oldsquaw. It has long central tail feathers and a more descriptive new name. It is most often seen in northern Illinois, particularly on Lake Michigan.

Mallards can be found almost anywhere there is water. They have even been seen in drainage ditches near shopping malls! They normally breed north of Illinois and pass through in large numbers during migration. One look at the oversized bill and it is clear how the northern shoveler got its name. They supplement their diet of plants with snails, insects and other crustaceans. The pied-billed grebe is not a true duck. Note the black ring around the whitish bill. Sportsmen please note that the pied-billed grebe is endangered in Illinois.

Look for the northern pintail's brown head and white breast with an extra splash of white going up the side of the head. The long tail feathers are also an identifying characteristic. This small duck has a very upright tail. Male ruddy ducks have an unnatural looking powder blue bill. Females (above) are brown with a white stripe on the cheek. The wood duck is one of the few ducks at home in trees. Wood ducks are found in ponds and streams surrounded by wooded areas. They have been seen standing on tree limbs, hence the name. Click here for a photo, if you don't believe it!

For comparison with common mergansers, click here.
A hooded merganser gets a running start on take off from Lake Springfield in Sangamon county, Illinois. Compare its markings with the bufflehead shown above. Also, note the "skittering" take-off. Many types of waterfowl run across the surface of the water as they gain speed to become airborne. Some, like loons and grebes, can't take off from land. They need their running start!

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