Sea Duck Identification

Sea Ducks (sub-family - Merginae) include the following species of duck: Bufflehead, Eiders (Common, King, Spectacled, and Steller's), Goldeneyes (Barrow's and Common), Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Mergansers (Brazilian, Scaly-sided, Common, Hooded, and Red-breasted), Scoters (Black, Common, Surf, Velvet, and White-winged), and Smew.

Many sea ducks winter along the coasts and have developed specialized salt glands to allow them to tolerate salt water. In the breeding season they may lay their eggs further inland by lakes, streams and rivers, because the young take time to develop their ability to tolerate salt water.

The Mergansers and the Smew are fish eating ducks and have a serrated beak which helps them to grasp their prey when diving for food. Other sea ducks will feed on molluscs and crustaceans from the sea floor.

Click on the Duck photographs to enlarge them or if you click on the Duck's name then it will take you to another page with information, more photos, and sometimes a video of that particular Duck.

Dabbling Ducks| Diving Ducks| Perching Ducks| Stiff-tail Ducks| Shelducks| Whistling Ducks
Female Ducks| All types of Duck| Duck Eclipse Plumage

Click to enlarge Bufflehead
(Bucephala Albeola)
Photo: Dave Key
Click to enlarge Common Eider
(Somateria Mollissima)
Photo: Dave Key
Click to enlarge King Eider
(Somateria Spectabilis)
Photo: zaskoda and Animal Photos!
Click to enlarge Spectacled Eider
(Somateria Fischeri)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge Steller's Eider
(Polysticta Stelleri)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge Barrow's Goldeneye
(Bucephala Islandica)
Photo: Dave Key
Click to enlarge Common Goldeneye
(Bucephala Clangula)
Photo: Dave Key
Click to enlarge Harlequin Duck
(Histrionicus Histrionicus)
photo by Neill Smith
Click to enlarge Long-tailed Duck
(Clangula Hyemalis)
photo by Neill Smith
Click to enlarge Brazilian Merganser
(Mergus Octosetaceus)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge Scaly-sided Merganser
(Mergus Squamatus)
photo by Neill Smith
Click to enlarge Common Merganser
(Mergus Merganser)
Photo: Dave Key
Click to enlarge Hooded Merganser
(Lophodytes Cucullatus)
Photo: Dave Key
Click to enlarge Red-breasted Merganser
(Mergus Serrator)
photo by Neill Smith
Click to enlarge Black Scoter
(Melanitta Americana)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge Common Scoter
(Melanitta Nigra)
photo by Neill Smith
Click to enlarge Surf Scoter
(Melanitta Perspicillata)
Photo: mikebaird and Animal Photos!
Click to enlarge Velvet Scoter
(Melanitta Fusca)
photo by Neill Smith
Click to enlarge White-winged Scoter
(Melanitta Deglandi)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge Smew
(Mergellus Albellus)
Photo: Dave Key

Bufflehead:The male has a black head and upper neck with shades of blue, green and violet, bluish-grey beak, eyes are dark-brown, a large patch of white extend from behind the eye to the back of the head which forms a crest, upperparts are black, lower neck and underparts are white, and the legs and feet are pink. The female has a dark-brown head with a white patch behind and below the eye, blackish-brown upperparts, greyish-white underparts, dark-grey beak, dark-brown eyes, and legs and feet are greyish.
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Common Eider: The male has a large grey-green wedge-shaped beak, black and white plumage, and a pale green nape. The legs and feet are olive-green. The female is brown but still has the large characteristic beak.
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King Eider: The male has a bluish-grey crown and nape, pale green cheeks, chin and neck are white, breast is white with a salmon-pinkish wash, red beak with a large orange knob which is bordered with black, black body and tail with large white patch either side of the rump, and legs and feet are yellow. The female has a deep reddish-brown plumage marked with dark chevrons on back and flanks, a grey beak but without the large orange knob of the male, and legs and feet are grey or yellowish. The female resembles the Common Eider.
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Spectacled Eider: The male Spectacled Eider has an olive-green nape, top of crown, forehead, and front of face, a large white circular eye patch bordered with black, an orange beak, the chin, throat, and upperparts are white, blackish-grey underparts, rump, and tail, and legs and feet are a drab yellow-grey. The female has a rich brown barred plumage, a paler head and neck with large pale-buff eye patches, a dark bluish-grey beak and yellowish-brown legs and feet.
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Steller's Eider:The male Steller's Eider has a white head and neck, black eye-ring, short greyish-green crest and greenish patch in front of the eye, greyish beak, a black collar, throat, and upperparts, a blue speculum, the underparts are cinnamon which is paler on the breast and upper flanks, elongated scapulars are black with white edges, and the legs and feet are grey. The female has a uniform dark red-brown plumage, a buff coloured eye-ring, blue speculum with white borders, grey beak, and grey legs and feet.
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Barrow's Goldeneye: The male Barrow's Goldeneye has a black head with metallic purple sheen, a distinctive white crescent shaped mark near the base of the beak, blackish beak, bright yellow eyes, black back, and tail, with white neck, breast, and underparts, white markings on the black wings, and the legs and feet are yellowish. The female has a chocolate brown head, a whitish collar, the breast, flank, and vent are grey-brown, a whitish belly, upperparts are a mottled dark-brown, upperwing is dark grey-brown with whitish tips, the beak is yellow, and the eyes are pale yellow.
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Common Goldeneye: The male has a metallic green-black head with a large round white spot on the cheek, gold-yellow eyes, a white neck and belly, dark back, black beak and orange-yellow legs and feet. The female has a dark chocolate-brown head and neck, brown-grey body with whitish breast and underparts.
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Harlequin Duck: The male has a dark bluish-grey head and neck with a large white crescent patch between the eye and the blue-grey beak which extends over the crown and down the nape turning chestnut colour, along with a black band from the beak running over the crown and down the nape, white spot on the ear-coverts and white patch on sides of neck, the chin, throat and front neck are black, upperback and breast are grey, the flanks have large chestnut patches, a brownish-grey abdomen, white patches on body are bordered with black, and grey legs and feet. The female is sooty-brown with whitish patches on head.
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Long-tailed Duck: The male has a mainly black and white plumage although this duck has a complex moulting process with three distinct plumage phases and the black and white plumage is seen over the winter and a chocolate brown and white plumage is seen in Spring and Summer, it has a distinctive long pointed tail, small dark-grey beak which has a pink band, and legs and feet are bluish-grey with darker webs. The female has a brown back, white head with dark crown and cheek patches, and a short pointed tail.
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Brazilian Merganser: The male Brazilian Merganser has a shiny green-black head and neck with a long crest, brown eyes, a long thin black beak, the lower neck, breast and flanks are light grey, the underparts are finely barred with brown and white, upperparts are dark grey, blackish wings with white patch which is distinctive in flight, and legs and feet are reddish. The female is similar but is smaller and has a shorter beak and crest.
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Scaly-sided Merganser: The male Scaly-sided Merganser has a black head and neck with a glossy green sheen, a distinctive long wispy crest, a thin red beak, eyes are dark brown, the foreneck, breast and underparts are white, the flanks, vent and rump have whitish feathers with dark grey edgings, the mantle, hindneck, and wings are blackish, and legs and feet are red. The female has a brown head and upper neck with a wispy crest, a thin reddish beak, dark eyes, greyish back, and whitish undersides, the lower neck, flanks, and upper tail have whitish feathers with dark grey edgings, and the legs and feet are reddish.
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Common Merganser: The male has a black-greenish gloss head and neck, the long neck feathers make the head look larger, a white body with pink tinge, the back is glossy black with a grey tail, the wings largely white on the inner half and black on the outer half, a red thin but long hooked beak with red-orange legs and feet. The female has a chestnut brown head, neck, and crest, with white upper chin, and upper-breast, upperparts are greyish-blue, underparts are creamy-white, with grey flanks.
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Hooded Merganser: The male has a black head with a large white patch from behind the eye to its bushy crest which can be expanded or contracted. The neck and back are black with a black band across a white breast, reddish-brown flanks, and a thin black beak. The female has a dull brown head with a smaller red-brown crest, upperparts are brownish-grey with greyish upper-breast, flanks, and white lower-breast. The Hooded Merganser has a sawbill.
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Red-breasted Merganser: The male has a dark green head with a long distinctive spiky crest, long thin red serrated beak, red eyes, white neck, finely black spotted rusty coloured breast, undersides are creamy-white, flanks are white with black bars, a black back, and legs and feet are red. The female has a rusty coloured head with a smaller crest, mottled grey-brown body, and eyes, legs, and beak are similar to the male.
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Black Scoter: The male Black Scoter has an all-black plumage, brown eyes, a black beak with a large yellow bulbous knob on its base, and dark-grey legs and feet. The female has a dark-brown hind-neck and crown extending down to the eye, a pale face, chin, and foreneck, a dark-brown body, and the beak is dark and can sometimes have some yellow around the nostrils.
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Common Scoter: The male Common Scoter has an overall glossy black plumage, a distinctive greyish-black beak which is swollen at the base, with orange-yellow patch above, and black tip, a pointed black tail, and the legs and feet are greyish-black. The female has a sooty brown plumage with pale cheeks extending down the upper neck, and a greyish-black beak which is not swollen at the base or yellow like the male.
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Surf Scoter: The male Surf Scoter has a glossy-black plumage except for white patches on the forehead and nape, a distinctive large red-yellow-white beak which is swollen at the base and has a round black patch on either side, white eyes and the legs and feet are reddish-orange. The female has a mostly brown body with a dark crown, and neck, with white patches on the face, blackish wings, a grey beak which is less swollen than the male, pale eyes, and brownish-yellow legs and feet.
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Velvet Scoter: The male has an all black plumage except for white around the eye and a white speculum, whitish eyes, the beak is orange-yellow with a red tip and the base of the beak has a swollen black knob. Legs and feet are reddish-brown with darker webbed feet. The female has a dark-brown plumage with two pale patches on each side of the head, brown eyes, lacks the knob on the beak, and white wing patches.
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White-winged Scoter: The male White-winged Scoter has an all-black plumage with a white crescent patch below the white eye, a black beak with yellow-orange sides from the nostrils to the tip and sometimes a black nail, a knob at base of the beak, a white speculum, and reddish-orange legs and feet. The female has a dark-brown plumage, brown eyes, dark-grey beak, and white patches near the beak and ear coverts. The male American White-winged Scoter has browner flanks, mostly dark-yellow beak, and smaller knob on its beak than the Asian White-winged Scoter which has a mostly orange-yellow beak and very tall knob at the base of the beak.
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Smew: The male Smew is mostly white with a black eye patch extending to the beak, and a black patch at the base of the crest, a black rump, grey-black markings on the wings, and legs and feet are greenish-grey. The female has a brown chestnut head with white cheeks and throat, upperparts are a mottled grey, and breast, belly, and underparts are grey-white. Like the Goosander and Red Breasted Merganser, the Smew is a sawbill. The beak has a hooked tip and serrated edges which helps when catching fish.
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