Dabblers, or puddle ducks, are most commonly (but not always) found in or around shallow water, both fresh water and salt, where they make much of their living “dabbling” for food within a foot or two of the water’s surface--heads down, tails in the air—feeding on a wide range of submerged vegetation, seeds and aquatic insects. Some of the dabbler species may also be found in and around agricultural fields, especially harvested grain fields where corn, wheat and other seeds provide easy pickings.
Mallards are the most common, largest and most easily recognizable of the puddle ducks, and mallard drakes, or “greenheads”, are considered by many the grand prize of duck hunting.
The pintail is another large duck, very common in Washington and recognized by its long wings, fast and graceful flight and long, pointed tail from which it gets its name.
The medium-sized wigeon is also common, especially in the western and central parts of the state, known for its fast, somewhat erratic flight and recognizable from below by the white belly that contrasts with a much darker chest and tail.
Gadwalls are about the same size as wigeon, look similar from below, but are more drab in color and not as common here in the Northwest.
The shoveler is our most unusual looking puddle duck, with a large, wide bill that illustrates its common nickname, the spoonbill. Another mid-sized duck, it’s usually found by itself, in pairs, or in small flocks. Drake shovelers are among our most brightly colored ducks.
One of the prettiest paintjobs of all, though, adorns the drake wood duck. A little smaller than the shoveler, the woody is often found around wooded ponds and streams, and unlike other dabblers, spends some of its time perched in trees. Its diet of nuts and berries makes it a favorite on duck hunters’ tables.
The green-winged teal is by far the most common of three teal species found in Washington, the others being the blue-winged and cinnamon teal. They’re the smallest of our puddle ducks, flying quickly in tight, twisting formation, often only a few feet above the water, making them a challenging target.