If you’re looking for help to identify ducks with white heads, this will be the best article you read today.
In this post, you will find photos, identification info, calls, and all the fun facts you need.
Examples of ducks with white heads include the hooded merganser, white-headed duck, bufflehead, muscovy duck, smew, paradise shelduck, Steller’s eider, and many others.
Here are 20 of the most interesting ones.
Table of Contents
Ducks With White Heads
- Scientific Name: Oxyura leucocephala
- Lifespan: n/a
- Wingspan: 23.6-27.5 in
White-headed ducks are small diving ducks with unique-looking heads and bills.
They breed in lakes with open water and dense vegetation in Europe (Spain), northern parts of Africa, and western and central parts of Asia.
Male white-headed ducks have white heads with black crowns, reddish-gray plumage, and unique large blue bills. Females are gray-brown and have white faces and darker bills.
Both sexes have long tails that they often hold cocked.
These diving ducks are mainly quiet and do not fly that often; they will often swim away from danger rather than try to fly.
White-headed ducks are omnivores and have a diet consisting of plants, seeds, small fish, snails, and crabs.
In the last decade, their numbers have been seriously dropping due to habitat loss and hunting; these ducks are now listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- Scientific Name: Lophodytes cucullatus
- Lifespan: 11-12 years in the wild
- Wingspan: 23.6-26 in
Hooded mergansers are small diving ducks native to North America and they come with a striking appearance.
Male hooded mergansers have black upperparts, white breasts, chestnut flanks, serrated black bills, and large heads with prominent white patches.
Females are gray and brown and have puffy crests.
They inhabit inland lakes and ponds from spring to fall and then migrate to the east and west coasts of the USA to winter; they are usually in pairs or small flocks, but might occasionally mix with other ducks.
Identify hooded mergansers by their distinctive, rolling, frog-like “crrroo” calls.
They are omnivores and feed on small fish, crawfish, aquatic insects, and some vegetation. They hunt using their sight when underwater and can stay there for up to 2 minutes while chasing the prey!
They have a third eyelid called a “nictitating membrane” that is transparent and allows them to see when submerged with no injury to the eyes.
Hooded mergansers are monogamous for a season and will stay together until the female builds the nest and lays the eggs. Males then leave the females to incubate their 7-15 whiteish eggs and rear the young alone.
- Scientific Name: Cairina moschata
- Lifespan: 8-12 years
- Wingspan: 54-60 in
Muscovy ducks are large ducks native to Mexico, Central, and South America – they originated in Brazil.
Males are twice the female size and measure around 30 inches in length and can weigh up to 15 pounds. This makes them the largest ducks in North America.
Domesticated muscovy ducks are mostly black and white; they have white heads with crests on their napes, multicolored beaks (black, pink, or yellow), and pink-red wattles around the beaks.
Identify males by their low breathy calls and females by their quiet trilling “coo“.
Muscovy ducks are omnivores and feed on small fish, snails, seeds, and larvae.
They inhabit forest swamps, lakes, and streams and nest in tree holes where they lay 8-16 eggs.
In the USA, wild muscovy ducks were introduced and have a very limited range; the largest population is in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Despite sharing the name with a region surrounding Moscow in Russia, it is thought that they were named after the 16th century “Muscovy Company” which transported these ducks to England and France.
White-faced Whistling Duck
- Scientific Name: Dendrocygna viduata
- Lifespan: 15 years
- Wingspan: 35.4 in
White-faced whistling ducks are species of whistling ducks found in South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
Also known as white-faced tree ducks and whistling teals, these birds were named after their high-pitched whistling contact calls.
Identify white-faced whistling ducks by their reddish chestnut-brown breasts, barred flanks, white heads with black napes, and long necks.
They inhabit still freshwater lakes or reservoirs that have lots of vegetation where these ducks can feed during the night on insects, mollusks, crustaceans, grass, seeds, and other plants.
White-faced whistling ducks are very social birds that can gather in groups of several thousand during the non-breeding season.
They nest in pairs and small groups on the ground and lay 4-13 eggs that both parents incubate.
After the breeding season ends, white-faced whistling ducks will molt and lose their primary feathers for around 3 weeks. During that period, they can neither swim nor fly and have to remain on land.
- Scientific Name: Bucephala albeola
- Lifespan: 2.5 years
- Wingspan: 22 in
Buffleheads are one of the smallest diving ducks in North America weighing from 9.5 to 19.4 oz.
Their scientific name comes from the ancient Greek word “boukephalos,” meaning “bullheaded”, and the Latin word “ albeola” which means “white”. This is a reference to the oddly bulbous shape of the species’ white heads.
Buffleheads can be identified by their white bodies, black backs, and large white patches at the back of their heads.
Look for birds with gray bills and pink legs and feet.
They breed in wooded lakes and ponds in Alaska and Canada and nest in tree cavities.
After that, these migratory white-headed ducks move to winter in protected coastal waters and open inland waters of the east and west coasts of North America and the southern parts of the USA.
A study from 2007 describes how punctual buffleheads are as they return to wintering grounds on the Pacific coast within a narrow margin of time each year.
Some of these stunning birds might even end up in Hawaii as part of their migration!
Buffleheads forage interestingly. One duck will watch for predators while the other parts of the group dive underwater to find food.
You will find them spending half the time underwater while foraging.
They are omnivorous and feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and some plants.
Buffleheads are monogamous birds, staying with the same partner for many years.
- Scientific Name: Tadorna variegata
- Lifespan: up to 23 years
- Wingspan: 35 in
Paradise shelducks are large and colorful species of ducks native to New Zealand.
Males and females can be distinguished by head color: females have white heads and upper necks while the males’ are black with slight green iridescence.
Identify male paradise shelducks also by the 2-syllable “zonk-zonk” honks made when alarmed and by the penetrating high-pitched “zeek-zeek” female calls.
These ducks with white heads inhabit rivers, wetlands, lakes, open grassy areas, and farmlands.
Paradise shelducks mate for life, build their nests under logs, on the ground, or in tree holes, and lay up to 10 eggs that the female incubates.
During the non-breeding season, they can be seen in pairs and large flocks.
They are omnivores and feed on grasses, clover, weeds, earthworms, insects, and crustaceans.
People hunt them in New Zealand as game birds from May to July, but despite that, paradise shelducks have a population of around 600,000 to 700,000 individuals.
- Scientific Name: Histrionicus histrionicus
- Lifespan: up to 20 years
- Wingspan: 26 in
Harlequin ducks are small sea ducks with colorful and complex plumage patterns.
Named after Harlequin, a character from an Italian comedy wearing a mask and an oddly painted costume, these ducks are also known as lords and ladies.
Males have slate blue plumage with white stripes and chestnut sides during the breeding season; females have grayish-brown plumage.
Males have large white crescent markings in front of the eyes that extends up to their crests; females have three white spots on their heads.
Harlequin ducks also have small pale blue-gray bills. To maintain a bond, pairs will often nod with their bills at one another, shake them from side to side, and dip between the nods.
Harlequin ducks breed in fast streams of north-western and north-eastern North America, Greenland, Iceland, and eastern Russia.
These ducks are migratory and will move to winter on rocky windswept shorelines of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. During that period, they will form smaller flocks.
Life in such habitats takes a toll on their bodies, as they end up with broken bones and skulls from being tossed around by the water.
They are carnivores and have a diet consisting of insects, fish, and aquatic invertebrates.
Harlequin ducks are very vocal and will often make cute mouse-like squeaks.
- Scientific Name: Mergellus albellus
- Lifespan: 8-10 years
- Wingspan: 25 in
Smews are small water diving ducks found in Europe and Asia.
They inhabit lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, either alone or in smaller groups.
They are also one of the most elegant-looking birds on this list of ducks with white heads.
Males have white plumage, white heads with black masks, and black backs, while the females are gray with big white throats and cheek patches and reddish-brown heads.
Both sexes have bushy crests.
These ducks have bills with hooked tips and serrated edges – this helps grab fish when diving.
They are omnivores and have a diet that also includes larvae, aquatic animals, plants, seeds, snails, and crabs.
Smews breed in northern forests of Europe and Asia and migrate to winter on the sheltered coasts or inland lakes of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, Germany, and even Great Brittain.
They breed in May, nest in tree holes, and have a clutch of 7-11 cream-colored eggs.
Due to their stunning plumage, smews are in demand among duck collectors.
- Scientific Name: Tadorna ferruginea
- Lifespan: n/a
- Wingspan: 43-53 in
Ruddy shelducks, also known as Brahminy ducks, are distinctive waterfowl with orange-brown plumage, creamy-white heads, and black tails and flight feathers.
They breed in wetlands, lakes, and rivers of southeastern Europe and Central Asia and winter in streams, sluggish rivers, ponds, flooded grassland, marshes, and brackish lagoons of Southern Asia.
Identify them by their loud honking calls.
Ruddy shelducks nest around trees and cliff holes and lay 6-12 creamy-white eggs that the female incubates; both parents will take care of the ducklings.
They are monogamous and mate for life; ruddy shelducks become very aggressive during their breeding season.
Females will try to scare away intruders by lowering their heads, stretching their necks, and making loud calls.
If that doesn’t work, they will run back to the males and encourage them to deal with the intruder.
These mostly nocturnal birds are omnivores and feed on grass, grain, plants, and invertebrates.
According to come estimates, ruddy shelducks have a global population of 170,000-225,000 birds.
- Scientific Name: Oxyura jamaicensis
- Lifespan: up to 13 years
- Wingspan: 18.5 in
Ruddy ducks are small North American stiff-tailed birds found in the western and southern parts of the USA.
Identify them by their long stiff tails, short necks, and white heads and cheeks with black caps.
Male ruddy ducks have rich chestnut plumage and bright blue scoop-shaped bills during summer.
When the winter comes, they become gray-brown and their beaks become dull grayish-blue.
Females and immatures have brown plumage, dark caps, and a dark line through their pale cheeks.
Ruddy ducks breed in marshy lakes and ponds. Females will use grass to build the nests in tall vegetation and lay 5-15 whitish eggs. They have the largest eggs of all ducks, compared to their body size.
Ruddy ducks become very aggressive during the breeding season; they can be spotted chasing away rabbits feeding on the shore close to them!
When the winter comes, these migratory ducks move to coastal bays and unfrozen lakes and ponds.
Ruddy ducks are omnivorous and feed on insects, crustaceans, and aquatic plants; they will also dive to grab food.
Although mainly silent, they might make some nasal calls, high-pitched calls, and hisses when feeling threatened. Males only have belch-like calls they use during courtship.
As part of their courtship ritual, male ruddy ducks will also perform a “bubbling display” where they will beat their bills against their chests in a rapid fashion, forcing air bubbles from their feathers.
If you want to see more ducks similar to Ruddy ducks, check our complete guide on blue-billed ducks.
- Scientific Name: Aix galericulata
- Lifespan: 6 years in the wild
- Wingspan: 26-30 in
Mandarin ducks are small and exotic-looking ducks native to eastern Asia.
They are related to wood ducks found in North America, another very colorful species.
Mandarin ducks inhabit rivers, lakes, and parks with trees nearby.
Both sexes have very distinctive crests on their heads.
Male mandarin ducks have purple breasts, orange “sails” on their backs, small red bills with whitish tips, and large white patches on the side of their heads (above the eyes).
Females resemble female wood ducks and have white eye rings and stripes on their heads, brown backs, and pale bill tips.
After mating, males will molt and look similar to females.
Mandarin ducks are rather shy and can be mostly found in pairs or alone; when the winter comes, they might gather in larger flocks.
They are omnivores and feed on seeds, grains, wetland plants, snails, insects, and small fish.
As part of their elaborate courtship ritual, males will shake and bob their heads, mock drink and preen, and show off their crests and “sail feathers”.
Mandarin ducks are monogamous but the males leave after the young have hatched; females will raise their 9-12 ducklings on their own.
When they hatch, a mother will call the ducklings that jump from their nests which can be as high as 30 feet from the ground.
Thanks to grass and fallen leaves to cushion the fall, the newborns are unharmed and move to water to feed.
Mandarin ducks are popular in Asia and have been considered a symbol of loyalty in ancient Japanese and Chinese philosophy.
- Scientific Name: Radjah radjah
- Lifespan: 5-10 years
- Wingspan: 11 in
Also known as Burdekin ducks (after the river in Australia), radjah shelducks are large ducks found in northern Australia and New Guinea.
The word “radjah” means “king” or “prince” in Hindi.
They have unique plumage that sets them apart from other ducks – radjah shelducks have white heads, necks, and breasts, dark wingtips, chestnut collars, and pink beaks and feet.
Identify males also by the hoarse whistling noises they make and females by their wheezy, low-pitched notes that resemble quacks.
They are strong swimmers but also great runners that can cross the muddy banks they are commonly found in with ease.
Radjah shelducks inhabit mangrove forests and sandy and muddy coasts and can be occasionally seen inland.
They forage by grazing or dabbling in shallow waters and mudflats and have an omnivorous diet consisting of insects, mollusks, small fish, algae, seeds, and sedges.
When the breeding season comes, these ducks with white heads become very aggressive and might even attack their partners.
Radjah shelducks are monogamous and breed for life; they nest in hollow trees and both parents incubate their clutch of 6-12 eggs.
- Scientific Name: Mareca americana
- Lifespan: 2 years
- Wingspan: 30-36 in
American wigeons are medium-sized dabbling ducks native to North America.
They are nicknamed “baldpates” due to the white foreheads and crowns the males have.
Identify American wigeons by their round heads and short necks.
Males have pale cinnamon plumage, white head caps, green stripes behind the eyes, and white bellies.
Females are warm brown with brownish heads.
American wigeons also have short pale blue bills with black tips. Due to the shorter size of their beaks, they can exert more force at the tip and pluck vegetation more easily.
Recognize these noisy ducks by their distinctive calls; males make wheezy “whoe-whoe” sounds while the females make low “qua-ack” ones.
American wigeons breed from April to May around wetlands, ponds, lakes, marshes, and rivers of Northern Canada and northwestern parts of the USA (including Idaho, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington).
They build their nests on the ground, around grasslands and fields, and lay 6-12 creamy white eggs.
They are migratory ducks and move to southern parts of the USA, Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America for winter.
American wigeons are omnivores that feed on aquatic and terrestrial plants and insects and aquatic invertebrates, especially during the breeding season.
- Scientific Name: Somateria mollissima
- Lifespan: 20 years
- Wingspan: 31-43 in
Also known as St. Cuthbert’s ducks or Cuddy’s ducks, common eiders are one of the largest sea ducks in the northern hemisphere.
They measure 20-28 inches in length, weigh 1.8-6.7 pounds, and span 31-43 inches across the wings.
Common eiders are stocky ducks that hold their sloping heads below body level when flying.
Speaking of their heads, males have primarily white heads, necks, chests, and backs, and black crowns, breasts, bellies, sides, rumps, and tails.
Females are russet-brown and gray.
Common eiders breed colonially and can make flocks ranging from 100 to over 15,000 individuals.
They breed in the Arctic, along the coast of northern parts of North America, south to Maine in the east, and south to the Alaska Peninsula in the west.
In the east, they winter from Greenland to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and south along the Atlantic Coast to Virginia; in the west, south to southern Alaska.
Common eiders are known for the insulating quality of their feathers; these ducks will line their nests with their own feathers to keep the eggs warm.
Quite a vocal species, common eiders will make pleasant cooing calls, harsh “kor-korr” alarm calls, and low “gog-gog” sounds.
They are known for “creching” where female eiders work together and raise their ducklings.
Common eiders are mostly found in marine water, near rocky seacoasts. They are carnivores and feed on mollusks, spider crabs, sea urchins, fish eggs, and marine worms.
- Scientific Name: Polysticta stelleri
- Lifespan: 20-25 years
- Wingspan: 27 in
Steller’s eiders are the smallest, rarest, and fastest of all the other eider species.
They breed along the coastlines of Alaska and eastern Russia and winter in coastal waters along the Aleutians, far eastern Russia, and northern Europe.
Males are hard to miss by their white heads and shoulders, black caps, chins, throats, eye-rings, rumps, and peachy underpants.
Females have brownish plumage, white eye-rings, white edges on inner wing feathers, and iridescent bluish-purple speculums.
These ducks forage near the shore and get their food by diving, waddling, and dabbling.
Steller’s eiders are omnivores and feed on small aquatic animals, insects, and seeds.
They are monogamous for a season and the pair will have a clutch of 5-10 brownish-orange eggs.
They are quieter than other eider species but will make soft guttural calls that resemble growls and barks, “qua-haa” sounds, and repetitive cackling sounds. Interestingly, males court the females in silence.
Due to changes in the Arctic climate, predation, diseases, and lead poisoning, their numbers have decreased, and are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
- Scientific Name: Clangula hyemalis
- Lifespan: 15 years
- Wingspan: 28 in
Long-tailed ducks, also known as oldsquaws, are medium-sized sea ducks with rounded heads and small beaks.
They breed in the Arctic, in tundra and taiga regions; they winter along the northern coasts of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
These ducks have several plumages, depending on the season.
Male long-tailed ducks have long (4-6 in) tails, white heads, and black, white, gray, and brown patterns during the non-breeding season.
When the breeding season comes, they turn dark and have white cheek patches.
Females are brownish overall and have white faces and large dark cheek patches during winter; their heads become darker during summer.
Their scientific name “Clangula” comes from a Latin word meaning “to resound” or “noisy” while the “hyemalis” refers to the Latin word that means “of winter”.
Identify long-tailed ducks by their vocalizations: males will often make musical yodeling “ow-ow” calls.
They feed on small fish and invertebrates and can go as deep as 200 feet below the surface to get them.
They are the only ducks that use wings to dive which allows them to reach such depths.
- Scientific Name: Sarkidiornis melanotos
- Lifespan: 20-30 years
- Wingspan: 46-57 in
Knob-billed ducks, also known as African comb ducks, are unmistakable and one of the largest species of ducks in the world.
They can measure 22-30 inches in length and weigh from 2.3 to 6.4 pounds.
Adult knob-billed ducks have white heads with dark freckles, white necks and underparts, and glossy blue-black upperparts.
Males are recognizable by their large black knobs on their beaks; females lack such conspicuous “accessorize”. Both sexes have small crests of slightly curly feathers.
These ducks inhabit still freshwater rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.
Although mostly quiet, knob-billed ducks will hiss, wheeze, grunt, or croak, when annoyed or when displaying.
They nest in tall grasses or tree cavities around 25 feet above the ground and lay 7-15 yellow-white eggs.
Knob-billed ducks forage by grazing or dabbling and consume seeds, grasses, sedges, wheat, small fish, and invertebrates.
They are rather social birds and will form small flocks during the wet season, and large ones (up to 100 individuals) during the dry season.
Similar to other tree ducks, knob-billed ducks might resort to “dump nesting” where several females lay their eggs in one nest.
- Scientific Name: Nettapus coromandelianus
- Lifespan: n/a
- Wingspan: n/a
Cotton teals are also known as cotton pygmy geese.
Despite such a name, they are not geese but small perching ducks found in Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Cotton teals are one of the smallest duck species in the world and can weigh as little as 5.6 oz and measure just 10 inches in length.
Males have bright white heads and necks with dark crowns; females are plainer and have duller caps and brown eye-lines through their eyes.
They are common in pairs or larger groups, inhabiting waterbodies with lots of aquatic vegetation (freshwater wetlands, small ponds, and even farm dams).
These white-headed ducks are omnivores and feed on plants, mollusks, small fish, and insect larvae.
Their breeding season coincides with the rain (June to August in India and January to March in Australia); they use tree holes to build their nests and females incubate their 6-12 ivory-colored eggs.
- Scientific Name: n/a
- Lifespan: 8-12 years
- Wingspan: n/a
The crested duck is a breed of domestic duck.
Due to their unique and unusual appearance, people have been keeping them for a long time.
They have long and slightly arched necks and medium-long bodies.
Crested ducks have large and centered crests on top of their white heads.
The crest is actually a mutation and any duck breed can have it.
These ducks are native to the East Indies and entered the United States around the mid-1800s.
The American Poultry Association only recognizes two varieties of crested ducks: white crested and black crested.
- Scientific Name: n/a
- Lifespan: 10 years
- Wingspan: n/a
Ancona ducks are another breed of domestic ducks.
These medium-sized ducks can weigh around 5-6.5 pounds and have slightly concave yellow beaks, and oval white heads.
Usually, they have a black and white color; other varieties include blue and white, chocolate and white, silver and white, and lavender and white.
It was first thought that the breed originated in Britain, but some recent information points out that the species was bred in the USA.
These white-headed ducks can lay from 210 to 280 eggs per year.
Read More: Examples of ducks that have red irises
This concludes our list of ducks with white heads.
Examples of white-headed ducks include several types of diving ducks, dabbling ducks, stiff-tailed ducks, etc.
Hopefully next time you see these birds, you will recognize any of them with ease!
And if you enjoyed our article, here are our other popular reads on birds: List of black and white ducks