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.