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Duck Wing Identification

Even experts can sometimes having a hard time identifying ducks on the wing, especially in non-breeding plumage. Fortunately though, wings—which don't change over the course of the year—provide a reliable way to identify ducks by species and sex. Our series of video guides will help you identify some common species by their wings when you have them in hand, which can not only add to your enjoyment of the birds, but can help you figure out your bag limit too!

Check out our videos, and then test out your new knowledge with our quiz!

And if you want more information on the rest of the duck, check out our waterfowl identification pages.

Feather groups using male mallard as an example.  From top to bottom of the wing: primary feathers, secondary feathers, and tertial feathers.

Video Series

This series of videos demonstrate using wing plumage is an effective way to identify the breed and sex of a ducks. We'll learn about mallards, dabbling ducks (pintail, widgeon, gadwall, and shoveler), and diving ducks (redhead, canvasback, ring-necked duck, and scaup).


Quiz Yourself

Examine each image, then mouse-over or tap to reveal the answer and a short description.

Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult male pintails have gray wings with iridescent green or sometimes pinkish, secondary feathers.
Front and back views of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year male mallards are more gray in appearance, with a broad white bar above the blue secondary feathers that does not extend over the tertial feathers.
Front and back views of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year male pintails have mostly gray wings with iridescent green or sometimes pinkish secondary feathers; the underside of the wing is mostly gray with white flecking.
Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female wigeon have mostly brown wings with secondary feathers that have just a little bit of white at the tips; the underside of the wing is a light brown and white barred pattern.
Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult female mallards are more brown in appearance with a broad white bar over the secondary feathers that extends over the tertial feathers too.
Front and back views of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult male wigeon wings have a big white patch on the shoulder and iridescent green in the secondary feathers.
Front and back views of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female gadwall wings have mostly white undersides with a few white secondary feathers with the rest being brown or gray.
Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female pintails have brown wings with brown secondary feathers that have broad, light-colored tips; the underside of the wing is a dark brown and white barred pattern.
Front and back views of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female mallards are more brown in appearance with a broad white bar over the secondary feathers that extends over the tertial feathers too but the extension may not be obvious if those feathers are worn.
Front and back views of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year male wigeon have a pale (usually mostly white) shoulder patch, dark secondary feathers with just a little bit of white at the tips, and a grayish underside.
Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult male gadwall wings have a lot of cinnamon and black coloration in the shoulder area.
Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult male mallards are more gray in appearance, with a broad white bar above the blue secondary feathers that does not extend over the tertial feathers.
Front and back views of duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female shovelers have mostly white undersides, a grayish shoulder, and a white bar above the secondary feathers.
Front view of a duck wing and side view of a duck head. Credit: USFWS
Female redhead wings are gray and look very similar to female canvasback wings, however the redhead’s rounded forehead is a different shape than a canvasback head.
Front view of a duck wing and side view of a duck head. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female canvasback wings look very similar to redhead wings, but a canvasback has a distinctive sloped forehead with a wedge-shaped bill.
Front view of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult Male redhead wings are gray with some light flecking in the shoulder area.
Front view of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Adult male canvasbacks have gray feathers with so much light flecking that the shoulder almost looks white.
Front view of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female scaup wings have a dark shoulder with no white flecking, secondary feathers that are mostly white, and gray primary feathers.
Front view of a duck wing. Credit: USFWS
Young of the year female ring-necked duck wings have a dark shoulder with no white flecking, and mostly gray secondary feathers.

Wings for Science

Did you know that we use wings to study waterfowl, which helps us manage them? Each year since 1961, fish and wildlife professionals gather together to learn more about waterfowl populations by examining duck wings and goose wing tips and tail feathers submitted by hunters. Using age, sex, and breed, helps set annual hunting regulations, ensuring the best possible opportunities for both hunting and healthy waterfowl populations.

Learn more »



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