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San Diego's Wild Ducks!

Updated on October 6, 2014

I love to watch ducks!

Ducks are some of my favorite birds and in San Diego, you see a lot of different kinds. Because San Diego sits on a major migration route, many ducks pass through or stay here in the fall, winter and spring. We have teals, wigeons, scaups, canvasbacks, mallards, gadwalls and many more. In this lens, I would like to show and talk about some of the ducks we regularly see here either year-round or just for the winter.

Many of the ducks are not in their breeding plumage when they winter here.

The best places to see ducks are in the local inland reservoirs such as Lake Murray, Santee Lakes, Chollas Lake, Lindo Lakes, and others. You can also see many ducks along river channels and river mouths such as the Otay River Mouth, Tijuana River Mouth, and San Diego River mouth. Most ducks prefer fresh or brackish water, but can develop a tolerance for saltier water if necessary for survival.

All photos on this hub were taken by me unless otherwise specified. The duck in the photo is a male wigeon.


Bufflehead | Source

Buffleheads are small diving ducks that can be hard to photograph. In San Diego, they can be found both in freshwater and salt water. They're most common in the winter and spring. Their feathers may look black and white, but the black park is actually a purplish-greenish color.

Wood ducks

Wood ducks
Wood ducks | Source

Wood ducks live here all year, but are not very common in California as they are in other states. They have been on the no-hunt list for hunters in recent years. Wood ducks live exclusively on fresh water and can be found in most reservoirs in the county. However, a large population of them exist on Santee Lakes, so your best bet for seeing them would be to go there. They also have Mandarin ducks, a close relative of the wood duck.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup | Source

Both lesser and greater scaup live here in San Diego during the winter. Greater scaup are usually larger and have a more pointed, greenish head. Scaups can live both on fresh and salt water, though lesser scaups tends to live on fresh water while greater scaups tend to be seen mostly near the coast on salt water.

Duck stuff

Here are suggested items for people who love to watch ducks or enjoy ducks in general.

Why Ducks Do That: 40 Distinctive Waterfowl Behaviors Explained & Photographed
Why Ducks Do That: 40 Distinctive Waterfowl Behaviors Explained & Photographed

Find out what ducks are doing when they do that little thing that's so weird. This is a good guide to understanding and enjoying ducks.

Great Gallery of Ducks and Other Waterfowl
Great Gallery of Ducks and Other Waterfowl

Lots of great photos spread throughout this book. Not just ducks, though, but other fowl, too.



Canvasback | Source

Canvasbacks are actually getting less common in California, though hunting them is still permitted in this state. This canvasback showed up at this spot for the first time that I could remember. It was in molt, usually their heads are much brighter red, similar to a redhead. Canvasbacks can be found on fresh or salt water, though they have, most recently, been seen on only fresh water.


Male gadwall
Male gadwall | Source

A few gadwalls live in San Diego all year around and some even breed here. However, most just stay for the winter. This particular male lived at a local lake all year until an owl got him. But, his exceptionally gorgeous son is still at the lake. Gadwalls frequently breed with mallards and make stunning hybrids.

Gadwalls are generally seen in fresh or brackish waters, but a few have been seen in salt water areas.

Northern Pintail

Pintail | Source

Northern pintails are a fun winter visitor. They can often be seen both on fresh and salt/brackish water. I find them mostly in the South Bay, but they also appear in freshwater areas like Lake Murray.


Redhead | Source

Redhead ducks are seen here all year around, but are not known to breed here. They are also plentiful winter visitors some years and in other years there might be none. In 2010, they were very plentiful, but in 2011 and 2012, one hardly even saw them. In 2013-2014, they were very plentiful again. They are almost always seen in freshwater areas.

Ruddy Ducks

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck | Source

Ruddy ducks are year-round diving duck residents that never set foot on shore (though they sometimes get really close). In the winter, they spend more time inland, but in the summer, they head out to marshes and river mouths to breed.

At one time, they bred more often inland, but in recent years, they've been breeding more in brackish areas near the coast.


Teal | Source

Teal are very common. This photo is of a group of female and juvenile green-winged teal which are very common in most areas in the winter, especially marshes and brackish water. Blue-winged and cinnamon teal are also fairly common in the same area. Cinnamon teals live in the area all year, but rarely are seen breeding.

Northern Shovelers

Shovelers | Source

These ducks arrive early in the fall and leave in late March, early April. They are often the first waterfowl to arrive and the last to leave San Diego. They can be found at just about any water source in San Diego, including freshwater reservoirs and brackish water such as river mouths.

Mallard with ducklings
Mallard with ducklings | Source

And of course. . .

We have the regular mallards and mallard ducklings that are almost everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere as well as coots, too. All year around every year. Occasionally, a long-tailed duck and Eurasian wigeon will make its appearance in town, too. And, we also have lots of geese from brant to snow geese and tundra swans in the county, too!

Drop me a line. . .

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    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 5 years ago

      Beautiful duck photos! It is just amazing :)