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Mallard Pair
Katherine Pawling

Ducks in High Park

See also: More about Ducks

There are primarily two categories of ducks based on their feeding habits, either dabbling or diving.

Note: Most of these pictures are of males which are typically more colourful (particularly when in breeding plumage) , and therefore the most easily identifiable. Females are usually drab so they can easily camouflage themselves from predators during nesting and fledgling season, and are often easily confused with females of other species.

Dabbling Ducks
Northern Shovelers feeding
Suzanne Adorjan

A dabbling duck is a type of shallow water duck that feeds primarily along the surface of the water or by tipping headfirst into the water to graze on aquatic plants and vegetation. Species of dabbling ducks include mallards, northern shovelers, American wigeons, American black ducks, gadwalls and cinnamon teal.

The most common dabblers year round in High Park are the Mallards and American Black Ducks. There are often some "odd" looking mallards with atypical markings, which are known as "hybrids" (the result of two separate species interbreeding).

Black Duck
Karen Yukich
Wood Duck
Suzanne Adorjan
Northern Shoveler
Mila Ark

At first glance the ornate patterns of the male Wood Duck makes it look like a wooden carving. Though uncommon in cities, wood ducks choose to nest near Grenadier Pond due to the abundance of food sources and sheltered habitats. Look for this colorful duck close to tall grasses or reeds.

Wood ducks nest in natural cavities such as hollow trees or nest boxes. After hatching, the ducklings may jump from heights of up to 30 metres or more without injury.

The much drabber female usually stays close to the male. She is similar to a female Mallard, but has a large white eye-ring.

Unlike most waterfowl, wood ducks perch and nest in trees and are comfortable flying through woods. Their broad tail and short, broad wings help make them maneuverable. When swimming, the head jerks back and forth much as a walking pigeon's does. You often see wood ducks in small groups (fewer than 20), keeping apart from other waterfowl.

Another colourful duck is the Northern Shoveler, which at first glance may be mistaken for a mallard, but on closer examination , the bill is noticeably different. It inhabits wetlands across much of North America. Its elongated, spoon-shaped bill has comb-like projections along its edges, which filter out food from the water.


Other dabbling ducks with unique markings which frequent High Park include Green- and Blue-winged Teals, American Wigeons and Gadwalls.

Suzanne Adorjan
American Wigeons
Suzanne Adorjan
Blue-winged Teal
Suzanne Adorjan


The Bufflehead is the smallest diving duck in North America, and breeds in ponds and small lakes in Canada, and winters in Canada and much of the United States. It nests in tree cavities as well as in nest boxes.

Suzanne Adorjan
Diving Ducks

A diving duck is a type of duck that dives deeply and swims underwater to feed on crustaceans, mollusks, insects, small fish and aquatic vegetation. Species of diving ducks include buffleheads, lesser and greater scaups, canvasbacks, redheads, common goldeneyes and ruddy ducks.

Diving ducks (commonly called pochards or scaups) are part of the diverse Anatidae family that includes geese and swans .

Diving Ducks are strong swimmers able to propel themselves under the water with large feet attached to short legs which are positioned far back on their bodies. However, this rear positioning of their feet makes them uncertain and awkward on land. Diving ducks sit low in the water and, when taking flight, need a running start along the water’s surface prior to becoming airborne but, with small wings relative to their body weight, they are very strong and fast once in the air.

Canvasbacks, Redheads, Scaups, Ring-neck Ducks and Ruddy Ducks are all Diving Ducks and are usually found on large, open bodies of water. Seaducks, which include Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneyes, Eiders, Mergansers and Buffleheads, are also commonly referred to as Diving Ducks because they also feed by diving deeply underwater.


The Ring-necked Duck is a small diving duck with a striking black head and whitish sides. It can be mistaken for a Scaup, and is more easily recognized by the bold white ring around its bill than the subtle purplish one around its neck. Look for this duck in the open areas of the pond.

Suzanne Adorjan

Diving Ducks most commonly seen on Grenadier Pond, arriving late autumn, are Buffleheads and Mergansers. Once Grenadier Pond freezes over with ice these ducks will usually head slightly southwest to the open waters of Lake Ontario.

Generally, during the winter months in Ontario unfrozen lakes or shallow, protected saltwater bays will be replete with mixed flocks of divers and, though Diving Ducks will not usually approach people as Dabbling Ducks often will, they are interesting and fun to watch. However, keep your eyes open as these expert divers can swim long distances underwater testing both your eyesight and patience!

Authors: Sue Adorjan, Katherine Pawling

Reference: Cornell Labs of Ornithology web site.

See also:

Common Birds of High Park Wetlands (pdf).

More photos

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Content last modified on July 07, 2016, at 09:13 PM EST