Diving ducks are generally found on larger, deeper lakes and streams than are dabblers, and as the description indicates, they feed by diving, sometimes to great depths. While most dabblers feed on grains, nuts, fruits and other vegetation, most diving species—with the notable exception of canvasbacks and redheads—prefer small fish, snails, and shellfish, making them less desirable table fare in the eyes of many hunters. Their fast flight and ability to swim great distances underwater, either to escape danger or when wounded, make them especially challenging for hunters.
The canvasback is highly prized among Washington hunters. Among the largest of all ducks, it’s also one of the fastest flyers, making it a true challenge for hunters. It’s long, sloping bill and forehead, and its red eyes, set it apart from it’s nearest look-alike, the redhead.
A little smaller and a little slower than the canvasback, the redhead is often found in close proximity to canvasbacks, and the two are sometimes mistaken for each other. The redhead, though, has a brighter red, less sloping head, and a more rounded tail than that of the canvasback.
Although they’re both diving ducks, greater and lesser scaup prefer different habitats, with greaters spending most of their time on “bigger,” more open water and lessers more likely to be found on smaller lakes and ponds. However, they are known to mix in some of our wintering areas. Only their size and a slight color variation on the back edge of the wings distinguish the two species.
The ring-neck duck is sort of short and bulky, and more likely to be found around freshwater ponds and rivers than open, saltwater areas. The white ring around the base of its bill is actually more recognizable than the ring around its neck.
The ruddy duck is small diver with a longer tail than most other diving ducks. When on the water, it often holds that tail straight up in the air. While it’s a fast flyer despite it’s tiny wings, a ruddy is as likely to dive and swim away from danger as it is to fly away.