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Identification of Australian Native Ducks and Ducklings

Updated on March 22, 2012

Your guide to identifying Native Australian Ducks and Ducklings

As a wildlife rescuer and carer I have found often found it difficult to identify the ducklings that come into our care.


Here I hope to have created a resource that other native animal rescuers, carers, and lovers of Australian Wildlife can use to identify the ducks in their local area.

Pic: Pacific Black Ducklings

Kristy Wheeldon 2008


NB All images copyright to their respective owners and used under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Native Ducks

Common Ducklings - Identification

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Black Duck - DucklingGrey Teal - DucklingPlumed Whistling Duck - DucklingWandering Whistling Duck - DucklingWhite Eyed Duck - DucklingAustralian Wood Duck - Duckling
Black Duck - Duckling
Black Duck - Duckling
Grey Teal - Duckling
Grey Teal - Duckling
Plumed Whistling Duck - Duckling
Plumed Whistling Duck - Duckling
Wandering Whistling Duck - Duckling
Wandering Whistling Duck - Duckling
White Eyed Duck - Duckling
White Eyed Duck - Duckling
Australian Wood Duck - Duckling
Australian Wood Duck - Duckling

Australian Wood Duck

also: Maned Duck, Maned Goose

Scientific Name Chenonetta jubata

Habitat Well watered coastal swamp; Short, grassy woodland near water; around dams; Red River Gum Forest and woodlands

Nest In tree holes

Diet Plants, crops, insects

Voice Nasal 'weh?' Female lower 'waaaah?'

Courting 'di-di-di-di-did' in trees.

Conservation Status in Australia Least Concern

General Characteristics

* Male has a brown head and neck. Breast is white and speckled grey, wings largely grey also. Olive-brown bill, feet and legs.

* Female has brown to grey plumage, with black rump, tail and lower back. Breast white and head and neck are pale brown.

* Better adapted to walking than swimming.

* A common inhabitant of farm dams. It has benefited from agricultural development. Flocks are often seen grazing on improved pastures.

* Maned ducks mate for life. Commonly nest in tree holes.

Distinguishing Features






Olive Brown

Olive Brown

Grey Brown/Light Tip


Olive Brown

Olive Brown



Olive Brown

Olive Brown























Source: Field Guide to the Birds of Australia Simpson & Day

Image: David de Groot

Image Website:

Blue-Billed Duck


Oxyura australis

Blue-billed Duck

Source: Gould League

General Characteristics:

* Males have a glossy black head, chestnut back and dark brown wings. They also have a distinctive blue bill during breeding season.

* Females are black-brown in colour, with light brown streaks, black tail and black specks on the throat and chin. The bill is grey-brown. Both have spiny erectile tail feathers.

* Commonly breed in inland lignum swamps.

* Construct their nests from wetland vegetation.

* Listed as vulnerable under Schedule 2 of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.


* Plants, insects and some larvae.


* Prefer deep, semi-permanent wetlands such as those dominated by Typha spp. Rely on deep wetlands with abundant and stable aquatic vegetation.

Image: Graeme Chapman

Image Website:

Burdekin Duck

also: Radjah Shelduck, White-headed Shelduck

Burdekin Duck

Chestnut Teal

Anas castanea

General Characteristics:

* Often mistaken for the Grey Teal.

* Male has chestnut breast and a glossy green-black head. Darker brown wings. White patches at the side of the rump and a black tail.

* Female has a dark brown crown, and a lighter brown face with black streaks. Dark brown wings and back, lighter brown rump and tail.

* Nest almost anywhere, but commonly nest in shrubs, tree holes or on raised sites.


* Seeds, molluscs, crustaceans, worms and insects.


* Favour coastal mangrove and saltmarsh habitat but are also found on inland wetlands.

Chestnut Teal

Freckled Duck

also: Monkey Duck


Stictonetta naevosa

General Characteristics:

* One of the world's rarest waterbirds.

* The least abundant Australian duck.

* Males have dark brown, freckled plumage with off-white spots. Breast is a freckled dark grey.

* Females are similar, but much lighter than males.

* Males have a red bill when breeding.

* Construct their nests from wetland vegetation.

* Listed as vulnerable under Schedule 2 of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.


* Algae, crustaceans, small fish, seeds and zooplankton.


* Prefers inland freshwater, densely vegetated cumbungi or lignum swamps.


Anas querquedula

General Characteristics:

* *A vagrant, rarely seen in Australia.

* A shoveler-like duck.

Grey Teal

Anas gibberifrons

General Characteristics:

* The most abundant Australian duck.

* Highly nomadic, move in response to rain and flood patterns.

* Plumage speckled brown. Side of head and throat are almost white. Feet and bill are slate-grey.

* Can be recognised by their breast plumage and white flashes on wings when flying.

* Construct nests out of wetland vegetation.

* Nest almost anywhere, but commonly nest in tree holes or on raised sites.

* Can breed at any time of the year.


* Seeds of plants such as sedges, smartweeds and grasses, when available.

* Aquatic insects, including mosquitoes, caddis flies, midges and dragonflies.


* Found in fresh, backish or salt waters.

* Found commonly in shallow wetlands as well as River Red Gum forests and woodlands.

Image: Ian Montgomery

Image Website:

Mountain Duck

also: Australian Shelduck, Chestnut-breasted Shelduck

Tadorna tadornoides

Mountain Duck

Source: MDBC

General Characteristics:

* The largest Australian duck.

* Males have a black head and neck, and a white collar. Chest is cinnamon coloured. Black back, rump and tail. White patch on the end of the wings.

* Females have similar colouring to the males, but chest is rich chestnut and they have a ring of white around the base of the bill.

* Commonly nest in tree holes.


* Grasses, sedges, algae, insects and molluscs.


* Large lakes and estuaries in the summer and then disperse to other areas to breed. Found commonly in River Red Gum forests and woodlands.

Image: MDBC

Musk Duck

Diver Duck, Steamer Duck

Biziura lobata

Musk Duck

Source: Gould League

General Characteristics:

* Male has dusky black plumage, with fine cream lines. Head, neck and breast are mottled with white. Bill is black with a large pendulous lobe, which enlarges during courtship displays. Feet are dark grey.

* Female looks similar to the male, but the lobe under the bill is much smaller.

* A diving duck.

* Construct their nests from wetland vegetation usually of Typha spp or Eleocharis spp.


* Insects, freshwater snails and plant seeds.


* Prefer deep, semi-permanent freshwater swamps. They feed and breed almost exclusively in wetlands dominated by Typha spp. Tend to avoid arid areas.

Image: Marj K

Image Website:

Pacific Black Duck

also: Black Duck, Brown Duck, Grey Duck, Wild Duck

Anas superciliosa

General Characteristics:

* Common throughout Australia, found in almost every wetland.

* Male: dusky brown head, neck, back and chest. Pale yellow-cream face and neck with a dark brown streak running from bill through the eye. Feet and bill are olive-grey in colour.

* Female: Is a paler version of the male.

* Commonly nest in tree holes or on raised sites, such as tree hollows.

* Feeds in or near water.


* Seeds, inflorescences, aquatic insects, crustaceans and shrimps.


* Found commonly in billabongs and lagoons within River Red Gum forests and woodlands.

* Prefers deep freshwater wetlands.

Image: Timmy Toucan

Image Website:

Pink-eared Duck

also: Wigeon, Zebra duck

Malacorhynchus membranaceus

General Characteristics:

* Males and females are identical in appearance.

* Characterised by zebra-striped plumage and a small pink spot behind the eye. Top of head is grey. Dark brown patch around the eyes. The neck, wings and the top of the back are midbrown.

* They very rarely leave the water, except to roost.

* Nomadic. They are able to breed at any time and are most numerous after wet years.

* Commonly nest in tree holes or on raised sites.


* A filter feeder, specialised to feed on plankton rich waters.


* Tends to be found on stagnant waters and flood sheets rather than lagoons and rivers.

Image: Ian Montgomery

Image Website: /

Plumed Whistling Duck

also: Grass Whistling Duck

Dendrocygna eytoni

General Characteristics:

* Mid-brown plumage on back, yellow edges on feathers of the upper back. Tail is a darker brown. Face, neck and breast are light brown. Chestnut patches with black stripes at the front of the wings.

* Remains near the water during the day, and grazes on land at night.


* Green grasses.


* Prefer dams and lagoons that are surrounded by grasslands.

Image: Serenity_Gate

Image Website:

Spotted Whistling Duck

Spotted Whistling Duck

Wandering Whistling Duck

also: Diving Whistling Duck

Dendrocygna arcuata

General Characteristics:

* Plumage is a rich chestnut brown. Black streak on crown and neck, black patches on wings.

* Nest on the ground usually in a sheltered area.

* Mate for life.


* Primarily aquatic plants, but also insects and other small aquatic animals.


* Frequent deep and permanent lagoons and dams. Rarely come ashore.

White-eyed Duck

also: Hardhead

Aythya australia

General Characteristics:

* Males have a coppery brown head and neck, a rich dark brown throat, breast, back, rump and tail. Lower breast and belly are white. Males have a distinctive white eye. Bill is black with a slate-blue bar at the tip.

* Females look similar but are generally lighter in colour with a narrower bar on the bill and brown eyes.

* Construct their nests from reeds, sedges and sticks in sheltered locations.

* Never perch in trees and rarely leave the water. They feed exclusively in the water.


* Aquatic insects, molluscs, shrimps, yabbies, small fish and some aquatic vegetation.


* Prefers deep permanent waters, particularly lagoons and swamps dominated by lignum and cumbungi.

Non-native Wild Ducks

* Northern Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos


Source: DLWC

General Characteristics:

* An introduced species.

* It is closely related to and is able to interbreed with the Pacific Black Duck, which may threaten the survival of the native species, particularly because they compete for both habitat and food.

* Males have a rich green head and neck, with a white ring around the base of the neck. Breast is rich brown, rest of plumage is grey-brown in colour. Rump and tail are black. Green Bill.

* Female is mottled and streaked brown in colour. Tail is whittish and wings are darker brown. Dark orange bill.


* Seeds, inflorescences, aquatic insects, crustaceans and shrimps.


* City parks and gardens but also commonly found in billabongs and lagoons within River Red Gum forests and woodlands.

Images: Corey

Image Website:

Non-Native Captive Ducks



Aylesburys are one of our common domestic ducks - seen for 150 years or more around the farmyards of middle England from whence they spread around the country.

As with the majority of our domestic ducks, except the Muscovy, they are derived from the Mallard, one of the genetic sports that Man has manipulated over the centuries to stablise a large white duck, which had great meaty qualities in the 1800's and much of the 1900s.

There are two very distinct kinds of Aylesbury duck : - the utility bird and the exhibition bird.

The latter sticks to the current British Waterfowl Association breed standard more closely but the former is what you want if you want a table bird and ducks that lay a reasonable number of eggs. These are not so easy to get hold of nowadays.

Most strains of Aylesbury ducks in the UK have been bred to neither quality, they are common as large white ducks but would not be considered show worthy and make very disappointing birds for either egg numbers or as a meat carcass. They are fine garden pets and most new owners do not realise the lack of quality until too late, which is why so many breeders can get away without doing the work to improve their breeding stocks. Always ask what breeding / selection strategy a supplier is using before you buy birds, particularly if you are looking to get a reasonable supply of eggs or meat in the future, or looking to enjoy campaigning your birds at local or national shows.

You may find help Finding Breeders here.

young aylesburys

Image is of some young Utility Aylesbury's at about 12 weeks old

In days gone by, most white farm ducks were either utility Aylesbury's or White Campbell, maybe with a bit of Pekin thrown in (and often a mixture of the three).

Information about the breed :

ORIGIN : Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Great Britain

BREEDING: Records of the first poultry show in 1845 show classes for 'Aylesbury or other white variety' and for 'Any other variety'. Since that date the particular characteristics of the breed were standardised and selected for to create a good meaty bird. Later the standard diverged so the exhibition quality bird is now very different to that of the utility. The attraction of the Aylesbury for development as a table bird was its large frame, which careful selective breeding would fill with meat, but now is lost in most, and equally importantly its white feather and skin. The white feather stubs leave less of an obvious residue after plucking so making the resulting carcass much more attractive to the general market.

EGGS : White; Good utility lines should produce around 150 eggs a year, these are now VERY rare. Ask the breeders you contact for their production records.. Aylesburys nowadays tend to vary from 35 - 120 eggs a year. We need many more breeders, large and small, to work to improve production.

SIZE : heavy;

drakes :- should weigh about 10-12 lbs. (4.5-5.5 kg); again most are not so well covered.

ducks :- could be about 9-11 lbs. (4-5kg) a chunky meaty utility aylesbury duck

MEAT : The old utility types were very efficient converters of feed to meat with a less pronounced bony keel than exhibition stock. It is said that at 8 weeks they would be at their best, weighing around 4-5 lbs. You will need to ask the breeder what weights their birds have at this age to compare the strains available to you. The results you get will depend entirely on what selection has taken place in the past 5 generations. It's a real shame but few will be able to tell you as so few record anything about their birds. Its not enough to say "aylesburys ARE good meat birds or they should be Xlbs, if THEIR birds are not selected for the productive qualities then the youngstock will tend to be mediocre quality. It takes work to improve / maintain good birds and there are no large breeders left to buy in new stock.

TEMPERAMENT : Lazy, eating machines who enjoy their pond.

From our experience so far their main activity is eating - and if their breeding is right, they will convert food into meat at an amazing rate. In fact one has to be careful with young birds that they don't overdo it. If you keep the youngsters free range, and do not feed ad-lib they do very well.

Tim and Jill Bowis

Kintaline Mill Farm, Benderloch, OBAN Argyll PA37 1QS Scotland

Khaki Campbell




Pekin ducklings






The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia

by Graham Pizzey & Frank Knight

Field Guide to the Birds of Australia

by Simpson & Day


Birds in Backyards

A Bird in the Bush

The Downy Ducklings of the Pink-eared

and White-eyed Ducks

What Duck is That?

Ducks and Duck Breeding in Australia

Question, query, comment or theory - leave them here!

Tell us what you think!

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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I would like to now small black duck with a large white bill

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Thank you so much for this.

      I had to sit my duck hunting identification test recently and this really helped!

      Thanks again.

    • suepogson profile image


      6 years ago

      This is lovely. I have ducks and have learned the differences - this site is brilliant - so useful.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I hevea photo of a beautiful duck whichisnestinginmyfront garden. N Melbourne Australia. Last year she htched10 ducklings. Couldsomeoneidentifythisducjk, please.

      .? Thanks, Pam

    • easymgmt profile image


      6 years ago

      I've been looking for a site that would help me know what to do to help a baby pigeon that seemingly didn't want to fly (see my lens for detail). I decided the best plan was to move him from my garden to some secluded woodland. I hope that was the right thing to do.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      An identification guide without pictures, particularly adult birds, lacks what is needed. Like some of the description however

    • profile image


      6 years ago


      Today I was thrilled to find a brown colored duck sitting on 10 eggs in my front garden under my bedroom window. I live in an outer S E suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

      Does the father duck also sit on the eggs?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      a site with duck sounds, similar to the frog identification of sound, would be a wonderful help, when sight identification is difficult

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi The Black ducks in my area nest on the ground. They excavate (or find) a small depression and line it with down. I have twice discovered nests in my paddocks slashing 1/2 to metre tall pattersons curse (a couple of years apart). The fist time I was able to avoid the nest and in a fewdays they'd hatched and moved on, the second time I exposed it... collected the 4 eggs and put them under a clucky hen, she hatched one....

    • annieangel1 profile image


      8 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      so cute - Angel blessed and featured on my wild bird lens

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Too cute!


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