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Having a general idea of what to expect on a hunt is helpful but knowing how to pick out and identify individual ducks is one of the most important skills for any waterfowler. For new hunters, learning to identify waterfowl in the air can be overwhelming. There’s an incredible variety of duck species and conditions they fly in that makes their identity even harder to accurately call on the fly. To help you be more effective in the blind and stay on the right side of bag limits, here’s what you need to know.

Texas Coast Teal Hunt

What to Look For

Learning to identify a bird you’re unfamiliar with requires you to learn and use several distinct cues. With all game birds, typically there are several markings you can identify in the field that you need to learn to make an accurate identification. One marking, clue, or feature on it’s own is rarely enough to identify a bird in flight with near 100 percent accuracy. Seeing shiny green feathers on the head of a duck might mean it’s a mallard but, male northern shovelers also have a similar coloration. However, the distinctly-shaped bill on a north shoveler is the key feature that sets them apart. Here are five types of field marks you can use to accurately identify birds.

Duck Identification Tips

Explore different habitats.

You might want to run off and visit the closest lake to your house, but don’t neglect hidden ponds, creeks, or wetland. Many of the species of dabbling ducks can commonly be found in these shallower areas.

Be patient, quiet, and still.

As with all wildlife, some duck species are particularly skittish and take off at thefirst sign of danger. There’s a chance they will circle back so don’t give up right away. Take it slow and have a plan. You’ll be surprised what pop out of the vegetation or a small hidden channel.

Choose a duck and follow it.

There’s a good chance you’ll end up looking at a mixed bag of waterfowl species at some point and it can be overwhelming to it all in. Choose one duck from the group and watch it. Focusing on one duck will give you a lot of insight about its behavior. As it moves around you will get to see it from multiple angles and how it interacts with other species. Ducks have tons of personality and the more you watch them, the easier it becomes to pick them out of a crowd.

Identifying Ducks for New Hunters

If you’re a new waterfowl hunter, starting off by hunting with a guide or seasoned hunter is the best way to rapidly absorb critical information. Heading off on your own without being able to identify birds could land you on the wrong side of strict waterfowl bag limits. When you get started working on your waterfowl identification, explore several locations where you can get closer to the birds and have a better look. Starting your waterfowl identification adventures off with a distant flock of birds in the middle of a lake will be more frustrating than informative. Many of these identification tips will take some time to fully grasp, but once you get a good look at the bird and understand what you see, you’ll be set.