Ducks in Alaska: 20 Species

Alaska is home to various wildlife species and one of the fascinating creatures that call this state their home is Alaska ducks. These aquatic birds come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, but they all share a common trait- they are perfectly adapted to life in water. If you ever explore the lakes, rivers, or coastal areas around Alaska, chances are high that you’ll encounter some of these Ducks in Alaska.

Many duck species are found in Alaska, from the tiny Bufflehead to the giant Mallard duck. Some ducks migrate to warmer regions during winter, while others stay back throughout the year. The most popular breeds include Harlequin Ducks, their striking plumage, and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, known for their unique courtship displays.

Table of Contents

Alaska Ducks:

There are 20 species of ducks in Alaska, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. These birds are a wonder to behold, from the smallest teal to the largest eider.

Mallard:

Ducks in Alaska
Ducks in Alaska

Mallard ducks are one of the most commonly found ducks in Alaska. They are known for their striking coloration, with males sporting a bright green head and yellow bill, while females have a more subdued brown plumage. These ducks are found throughout Alaska, from coastal to interior regions.

In Alaska, Mallard ducks can be seen nesting along riverbanks and in wetlands during the summer months. They prefer shallow water and marshy areas where they can easily find food, such as aquatic plants, insects, and small fish. During migration season, Mallards can be seen flying in large flocks overhead as they make their way to warmer climates further south.

While Mallard ducks may not be considered a rare sight in Alaska, they still hold an essential place in the state’s ecosystem.

Scientific NameAnasPlatyrhynchos
Length20–26 in
Weight1.5–3.5 lb
Wingspan32–39 in

Green-winged Teal:

Green-winged Teal Ducks are a familiar sight in Alaska, particularly during the fall migration when they travel from their breeding grounds in northern Canada to their wintering areas in the southern United States. These ducks are small and fast-flying, with distinctive green patches on their wings that make them easy to identify. They are also known for their high-pitched whistling calls, which can be heard from far away.

Despite their small size, Green-winged Teals are hardy birds that can survive in harsh Arctic environments. They may even thrive there because of the abundance of shallow ponds and wetlands that provide ideal feeding and nesting sites. During summer breeding, male Green-winged Teals develop striking plumage with chestnut-colored heads and iridescent green patches on their faces. Females have more subdued brown feathers but share the males’ distinctive wing markings.

Specifications:

Scientific NameAnasCarolinensis
Length12.2–15.3 in
Weight4.9–17.6 oz
Wingspan20.5–23.2 in

Bufflehead:

Bufflehead ducks are a common sight in Alaska. These small, diving ducks are known for their striking black and white plumage, with males sporting iridescent green and purple head feathers. While they can be found throughout North America, their presence is especially notable in the Last Frontier.

Alaska provides an ideal habitat for buffleheads, with its numerous lakes, rivers, and coastal waters offering great food sources such as aquatic insects and crustaceans. During the summer breeding season, they can be spotted on inland wetlands across the state before migrating to wintering grounds along the Pacific coast.

Despite their small size (measuring just over a foot long), buffleheads are strong fliers capable of traveling great distances during migration. Bufflehead ducks are also known as North Carolina ducks.

Specifications:

Scientific NameBucephalaalbeola
Length13–16 in
Weight9.5–19.4 oz
Wingspan55 cm

Northern Pintail:

Northern Pintail Ducks are common in Alaska during the spring and fall migration seasons. Their long, pointed tails and slender bodies make these ducks easily recognizable. Their distinctive brown and white coloration makes them stand out against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and icy blue waters. Northern pintails typically inhabit shallow wetlands, marshes, ponds, lakeshores, and other aquatic environments.

Specifications:

Scientific NameAnasAcuta
Length23–30 in
Weight0.99–3.00 lb
Wingspan31–37 in

American Wigeon:

American Wigeon Ducks are one of the fascinating ducks found in Alaska. These ducks are known for their striking appearance, with a distinctive white patch on the forehead and a bright green stripe that runs from the eye to the back of their head. They are also known for their unique vocalizations that can be heard from far away.

During winter months, these ducks flock to Alaska’s coastal wetlands and estuaries in large numbers. These wetlands offer many food sources, such as aquatic vegetation, invertebrates, and small fish. The ducks also use this time to rest and prepare themselves for their long journey back to breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra during springtime.

Although American Ducks are not considered endangered, they still face challenges such as habitat loss due to human activities like oil drilling or pollution.

Specifications:

Scientific NameMareca Americana
Length17–23 in
Weight1.129–2.932 lb
Wingspan30–36 in

Greater Scaup:

Greater Scaup Ducks are a common sight in Alaska, especially during winter. These ducks can be found along the coasts of Alaska, where they feed on clams, mussels, and other small aquatic creatures. They are medium-sized diving ducks with different blackheads and white sides.

During breeding, these Ducks migrate to freshwater lakes and ponds in Canada and the northern United States. They typically nest near water bodies with dense vegetation cover that provides shelter from predators. Female ducks lay an average of eight eggs per clutch.

The population of Greater Ducks has declined over the years due to habitat loss and pollution. Conservation efforts have been implemented to protect their breeding grounds and wintering habitats. With continued conservation efforts, it is hoped that the population of these beautiful birds will rebound in Alaska and beyond.

Specifications:

Scientific NameAythyaMarila
Length15–22 in
Weight1.601–2.998 lb
Wingspan28–33 in

Gadwall:

Ducks in Alaska
Ducks in Alaska

Gadwall ducks, also known as grey ducks, are common in Alaska’s wetlands and marshes. These medium-sized dabbling ducks have a distinctive appearance with their mottled brown plumage, black rump patch, and white wing patches. They are often seen in small flocks feeding on aquatic plants and insects.

In the summer months, gadwalls can nest near water sources such as ponds, streams, or lakes. They construct their nests from the plant material on the ground or raised platforms above the water level. Female gadwalls lay an average of 7-10 eggs per clutch, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs for about three weeks until they hatch.

One interesting fact about gadwall ducks is that they have been known to hybridize with other species, such as mallards and pintails.

Specifications:

Scientific NameMarecaStrepera
Length19–23 in
Weight30–35oz
Wingspan31–33 in

Spectacled Eider:

Spectacled Eider Ducks are one of the fascinating species of waterfowl in Alaska. These ducks stand out with their unique appearance, which includes a distinctive white ring around their eyes, which makes them look like they’re wearing spectacles.

During the summer breeding season, Spectacled Eiders can be found on the coasts and islands of northern Alaska, including the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where they lay their eggs in shallow tundra ponds. After hatching, ducklings leave their nests within hours and feed on insects and other tiny aquatic organisms.

The Spectacled Eider population has been declining over recent years due to habitat loss and hunting pressure from indigenous communities who rely on these birds for subsistence.

Common Eider

Common Eider Ducks, scientifically known as Somateria mollissima, are fascinating ducks in Alaska. These large sea ducks have a wingspan of up to 39 inches and weigh around 5-8 pounds. Male Eiders are easily recognizable due to their black and white plumage, while females have brown feathers.

During the breeding season, Common Eider Ducks can be observed along the coastlines of Alaska’s Arctic regions. They typically nest on rocky islands or peninsulas near shallow waters, feeding on mollusks, crustaceans, and other small marine creatures. These ducks mate for life and return to the same nesting sites each year.

Despite their unique features and behaviors, Common Eider Ducks face many challenges in Alaska’s changing environment.

King Eider:

King Eider Ducks are one of the most beautiful and fascinating bird species in Alaska’s remote coastal regions. These ducks stand out with their vibrant, colorful plumage, making them a favorite among birdwatchers worldwide. Male King Eiders have distinct markings of black and white stripes on their heads, with bright orange beaks that make for stunning photographs.

These ducks are known for their unique breeding behavior, where males gather in groups to display their feathers and perform courtship rituals to impress females. During the breeding season, they build nests on rocky cliffs or tundra areas close to water sources. The eggs hatch within three weeks, after which the mother takes care of her young until they can fend for themselves.

Despite being a widespread bird species to observe in Alaska, King Eiders are also threatened by habitat loss due to oil drilling and climate change.

Steller’sEider:

Steller’sEider ducks are a sea duck species native to the Arctic region. They are known for their unique and colorful plumage, with males sporting a striking black and white pattern, while females have a more muted brown coloring with white patches on their heads and neck. These beautiful birds can be found in several locations across Alaska, where they come to breed during the summer months.

One of the most popular spots to observe these ducks is the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska. Visitors can witness these stunning birds up close as they swim along the coastlines or gather in large flocks. The refuge also provides critical nesting habitat for many other bird species, making it a must-visit destination for any bird-watching enthusiast.

Common Merganser:

Common Merganser Ducks are large, fast-flying waterfowl that inhabit freshwater rivers and lakes throughout Alaska. These ducks have a distinctive appearance with a long, thin bill that is serrated for catching fish. The males have a green head and white body, while the females have a gray head and brown body.

During the breeding season, Common Mergansers can be seen performing courtship displays such as head-bobbing, preening their feathers, and vocalizing. They nest in tree cavities or on the ground near water sources. After hatching, the ducklings jump from their nest into the water below, where they will learn to swim and feed on insects and small fish.

Red-breasted Merganser:

Red-breasted Merganser Ducks are a beautiful sight to behold in Alaska. These ducks can be found in various habitats, such as coastal waters, lakes, and rivers across the state. They are known for their unique appearance, red-colored breasts, and long, thin bills.

During the breeding season, male Red-breasted Mergansers will perform elaborate courtship displays that involve fluffing their feathers and bobbing their heads up and down. Females typically lay around 6-8 eggs in a clutch before incubating them for about a month. After hatching, the young chicks can swim almost immediately but rely on their mother for protection and food.

Red-breasted Mergansers are also important indicators of the health of aquatic ecosystems in Alaska, as they feed on fish and other marine creatures.

Common Goldeneye:

Common Goldeneye Ducks are a sight to behold in Alaska. These beautiful ducks have stunning black and white plumage and distinctive golden eyes that give them their name. They are a common sight in the state’s lakes, rivers, and coastal areas, where they can be seen swimming gracefully or diving underwater to catch their prey.

These ducks are known for their agile diving skills, allowing them to feed on fish and other aquatic creatures beneath the water’s surface. They also have webbed feet that help them swim efficiently through the often-chilly Alaskan waters, and their impressive hunting abilities, Common Goldeneyes, are skilled at flying long distances. They can travel great distances during migration season.

Barrow’s Goldeneye:

Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks are a species of diving duck native to North America. They are named after the town of Barrow in Alaska, where naturalist Edward William Nelson first identified them in 1883. These ducks are known for their striking appearance, with males sporting black and white plumage and a distinctive golden-yellow eye.

In Alaska, Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks can be found in freshwater lakes and rivers throughout the state. During the breeding season, males perform elaborate courtship displays to attract mates. Once paired up, females will lay around six to twelve eggs in a nest near vegetation near the water’s edge.

Despite their beauty and fascinating behavior, Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks face threats from habitat loss due to human development and pollution. Conservation efforts such as protecting wetland habitats and reducing chemical pollutants can help ensure the survival of this unique species for generations to come.

Harlequin Duck:

Harlequin ducks are a highly sought-after species of waterfowl in Alaska. These colorful and unique ducks are known for their striking plumage, marked by bold white stripes and patches of black, brown, and blue-gray. Harlequin ducks are also renowned for their excellent diving abilities, enabling them to hunt for food beneath the water’s surface.

Unlike many other species of duck that inhabit Alaska’s coastal waters, harlequin ducks require fast-moving streams with rocky bottoms to breed. This makes them rare for visitors who venture inland from the coast. However, if you’re lucky enough to spot one of these magnificent birds in its natural habitat, you’ll be treated to an impressive display as they dive and swim through the rapids with speed and agility.

Long-tailed Duck:

Long-tailed ducks are a unique species of waterfowl found in Alaska. These birds are commonly called “Oldsquaws” due to the distinctive call they make during their breeding season. Long-tailed ducks have a unique appearance, with sleek black and white plumage and long, thin tails that give them their name.

These birds are highly adapted to life in the harsh Arctic environment of Alaska. They can dive up to 200 feet deep into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea to catch fish and other prey. Long-tailed ducks also have specialized feathers that help them stay warm in icy water, making them one of the few bird species that can survive year-round in Alaska’s tundra.

Despite these adaptations, long-tailed duck populations face threats from climate change and habitat loss.

Surf Scoter:

Surf Scoter Ducks are a unique and fascinating species found in various parts of Alaska. These birds have a distinctive look, with their black and white bodies and bright orange bills. They are also known for their excellent diving abilities, which allow them to hunt for food underwater.

Alaska is home to one of the world’s largest populations of Surf Scoter Ducks. During the breeding season, these birds can be found along the coastlines of Alaska’s northern regions. They typically nest on rocky cliffs or islands near the water’s edge, laying their eggs in shallow depressions lined with feathers or other materials.

One of the fascinating things about Surf Scoter Ducks is their diet. These birds feed primarily on mollusks such as clams, mussels, and snails.

White-winged Scoter:

White-winged scoter ducks are a magnificent sight to behold in Alaska. These birds are part of the sea duck family and can be found in coastal waters during the winter months. They have a distinct look with their black feathers, white wing patches, and bright orange bills that make them stand out among other waterfowl species.

The White-winged Scoter is known for its high diving ability, allowing them to dive up to 40 meters deep in search of food. Their diet consists mainly of mollusks, crustaceans, and other aquatic creatures on the ocean floor. During the breeding season, you may see these ducks near freshwater lakes or streams, where they build nests on the ground lined with plant material.

These birds are also known for their unique vocalizations, which include whistles and grunts that can be heard from quite a distance away.

Black Scoter:

Black Scoter Ducks are a unique and fascinating species found in Alaska. These ducks are known for their dark plumage, which is especially noticeable in males. Their black feathers have a slightly iridescent sheen, which makes them stand out from other waterfowl species.

The Black Scoter Ducks breed in the northern parts of Alaska and then migrate southward to spend the winter in coastal waters off the United States Atlantic coastlines. During their breeding season, they prefer to nest in tundra ponds where they feed on aquatic plants and insects. They are also known to consume mollusks during their migration period.

One of the most striking features of Black Scotter Ducks is their behavior during mating season. The males perform elaborate courtship displays by puffing up their chests and flapping their wings while swimming around females with dramatic head movements.

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Wrapping Up: Ducks in Alaska

Alaskan ducks have proven to be fascinating species of birds. Their unique adaptations and ability to thrive in extreme climates make them essential to the natural environment. They provide:
• Recreational activities for hunters.
• Watching opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts.
• A source of food for humans.
We must continue to protect these birds by preserving their habitats and limiting the amount of hunting in Alaska.