A Basic Overview of Puddle Ducks

A Basic Overview of Puddle Ducks

Puddle ducks, also known as dabbler ducks, are ducks that feed primarily in shallow water and that do not dive beneath the water’s surface. Mallards, teal, wood ducks, widgeons, gadwalls, pintails, and shovelers are all puddle ducks.

They have large wings relative to their body size, which enables them to lift off from land or water in a vertically upward direction rather than needing the long horizontal takeoff “runway” required of deep-feeding diver ducks.

Puddle ducks generally have colored wing patches, or speculum feathers. Their calls are generally coarse and gravelly, compared to the whistles and croaks of many diver species. Their legs are positioned in the center on their body, enabling them to walk and feed competently on land, though not as well as geese.

When feeding on submerged vegetation, puddle ducks dip their head beneath the surface in a motion known as dabbling. They cannot feed in water much deeper than 75% of their total length. Puddle ducks have a primarily vegetarian diet. Their flesh is milder and better tasting than diver ducks, which feed heavily on fish, shellfish, aquatic insects, and other animal matter. There are exceptions.

The shoveler is a puddle duck that feeds heavily on animal matter, and it is one of the poorest tasting puddle duck species. In certain places and at certain times of year, otherwise excellent species of puddle ducks will develop an “off” flavor from feeding on crustaceans and other animal matter.

Such is the case with mallards in many areas of Southeast Alaska, where they taste as bad as most diver ducks. Below we will cover mallards, wood ducks, and teal. Familiarize yourself with these puddle duck species and you’ll be prepared to target all the others.

Shop

LZ Jacket
Save this product
First Lite

A full-season waterproof Waterfowl jacket designed to fit over varying degrees of insulating layers to keep you warm down to 30°F. The LZ is patterned for wing-shooting with heavily articulated arms and specialty pocketing optimized for security and quick access to essential gear.

Refuge Bib
Save this product
First Lite

A Waterfowl bib built for performance in the extreme cold of late season field hunting with a robust insulation package, durable waterproof/windproof fabrication, and an extensive feature set optimized for pit and layout blinds.

Omen Stormshelter Pant
Save this product
First Lite

When the forecast is grim and unpredictable at best, but you still have a tag in hand, the Omen Stormshelter is a foul weather stronghold that you can trust. Built to be uncompromising in weather resistance and durability, the Omen system is the solution for mid to late-season hunts when persistent varying precipitation, wind, and low temps are the only guarantee. 

Origin Hoody
Save this product
First Lite

A lightweight, quiet mid-layer designed to be utilized as both an outerwear piece as well as a layering option as temperatures drop.

Get the latest in your inbox
Subscribe to our newsletters to receive regular emails with hand-picked content, gear recommendations, and special deals.
Our picks for the week's best content and gear
For the whitetail obsessed, with Mark Kenyon
Redefining our connection to food, with Danielle Prewett
Your one-stop for everything waterfowl, with Sean Weaver
Get out on the water with the MeatEater Fishing crew
Technical hunting apparel
Purpose-built accessories for hunting and fishing
Quality elk, turkey, waterfowl, and deer calls
Save this article