How to identify moulting ducks

Drakes lie low in their ‘eclipse’ plumage in midsummer. It can be tricky to identify moulting ducks, so here is our ID guide for 12 UK species. 

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Goldeneye
All illustrations by Mike Langman

 

1. Goldeneye Bucephala clangula (above)

40–48cm. Eclipse male is similar to female, developing a brown head, but retains traces of white at base of bill.

 

 

2. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

50–60cm. Moulting male resembles female, but has an all-yellow bill and
a much more rufous chest.

 

 

3. Gadwall Anas strepera

46–56cm. Eclipse male looks like a small, greyish female mallard, but has a white speculum (wing flash).

 

 

4. Garganey Anas querquedula

37–41cm. A scarce summer visitor to UK. Eclipse male has a pale throat, dark cheek stripe and all-grey bill. 

 

 

5. Teal Anas crecca

34–38cm. Easy to identify by its tiny size and green speculum (wing flash). Eclipse male near-identical to female.

 

 

6. Wigeon Anas penelope

42–50cm. A white forewing patch and bold chestnut tones separate the moulting male from the female.

 

 

7. Shoveler Anas clypeata

44–52cm. Unique bill confirms this species’ identity in all plumages; in eclipse, male is browner and plainer.

 

 

8. Tufted duck Aythya fuligula

40–47cm. In eclipse, male has just a hint of a crest, with dusky flanks and a brown tinge to black areas.

 

 

9. Pochard Aythya ferina

42–49cm. Male becomes drabber during eclipse, with a dull, mottled-grey (not glossy black) breast.

 

 

10. Red-breasted merganser Mergus serrator

52–58cm. One of two similar ‘sawbill’ ducks in UK; eclipse male looks like female, but with a white wing patch.

 

 

11. Goosander Mergus merganser

58–68cm. Larger than merganser, its close relative. White on wing helps separate moulting male from female.

 

 

12. Eider Somateria mollissima

60–70cm. Our largest sea duck. In eclipse, male is dark and mottled, with extensive white on wings.

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