5 Small Diving Ducks in Michigan: A Guide to Watching These Fascinating Birds

5 Small Diving Ducks in Michigan: A Guide to Watching These Fascinating Birds


As a birdwatcher and nature enthusiast, I have always been drawn to the diversity of waterfowl found in Michigan. One particular group of ducks that has always fascinated me are the diving ducks. These birds are known for their underwater swimming ability and are a common sight in the state’s lakes, rivers, and wetlands. However, identifying these small diving ducks can be a challenge for even the most experienced birders. In this article, I will share my top 5 tips for identifying small diving ducks in Michigan, along with some background information on these fascinating birds.

Introduction to Diving Ducks in Michigan

Diving ducks are a group of ducks that are known for their ability to dive underwater in search of food. These ducks have specialized adaptations that allow them to stay submerged for several seconds at a time, sometimes reaching depths of up to 60 feet. Michigan is home to a variety of diving ducks, including the lesser scaup, ring-necked duck, bufflehead, and hooded merganser, to name a few.

Identifying diving ducks can be challenging, especially when dealing with the smaller species. However, with some practice and knowledge of their distinctive features, it is possible to tell them apart. In the following sections, I will share my top 5 tips for identifying small diving ducks in Michigan.

Discover 5 Small Diving Ducks in Michigan

Michigan is home to a variety of waterfowl, including five small diving ducks. These ducks are known for their ability to dive underwater in search of food, and they can often be seen swimming in lakes, rivers, and ponds.

1. Bufflehead

Bufflehead

The Bufflehead is the smallest diving duck in Michigan, and it is also one of the most popular. These ducks are known for their brightly colored heads, which are green and purple in males and brown and white in females. Buffleheads are also very acrobatic, and they often perform flips and spins in the air.

Here are some places in Michigan where you might be able to see Buffleheads:

  • Lake Michigan: Buffleheads are common winter visitors to Lake Michigan, where they can be seen swimming in bays, harbors, and other protected waters.
  • Lake Huron: Buffleheads are also common winter visitors to Lake Huron, where they can be seen in similar habitats to those found on Lake Michigan.
  • Lake Superior: Buffleheads are less common winter visitors to Lake Superior, but they can still be seen in some areas, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
  • Inland lakes and rivers: Buffleheads can also be found on inland lakes and rivers in Michigan, especially during the breeding season.

Here are some simple tips for identifying Buffleheads in Michigan:

  • Size: Buffleheads are the smallest North American diving ducks, measuring just 14-17 inches long and weighing 10-12 ounces.
  • Shape: Buffleheads have a large head, short neck, and thick bill. Their bodies are small and compact, with a rounded tail.
  • Color: Adult male Buffleheads are black on the back and head, with a white patch on the face that extends to the back of the head. Their chest and flanks are white, and their underbelly is gray. Adult female Buffleheads are gray-brown overall, with a white cheek patch.
  • Behavior: Buffleheads are often seen swimming in small groups, diving for food. They are also known for their rapid bobbing motion when swimming.

2. Ring-Necked Duck

Ring-Necked Duck

The Ring-Necked Duck is another small diving duck that is common in Michigan. These ducks are named for the black ring that encircles their necks. Ring-Necked Ducks are often seen swimming in groups, and they are known for their loud calls.

Here are some simple tips for identifying Ring-necked Ducks in Michigan:

  • Males: The male Ring-necked Duck is a sharply marked bird of gleaming black, gray, and white. They have a black head, black back, and gray sides with a white hash mark on the chest. They also have a white ring around their neck, which is how they get their name.
  • Females: The female Ring-necked Duck is rich brown with a delicate face pattern. They have a brown top of head that contrasts with gray face, white eyering, and white strip behind bill. Their bill is gray with a white band and a black tip.
  • Behavior: Ring-necked Ducks are often in small flocks and pairs, diving to feed on mollusks, invertebrates, and submerged aquatic vegetation. Sometimes they flock with scaup; other times you may see them with dabbling ducks.

Here are some places in Michigan where you might be able to see Ring-necked Ducks:

  • Lake Michigan: Ring-necked Ducks are common winter visitors to Lake Michigan, where they can be seen swimming in bays, harbors, and other protected waters.
  • Lake Huron: Ring-necked Ducks are also common winter visitors to Lake Huron, where they can be seen in similar habitats to those found on Lake Michigan.
  • Lake Superior: Ring-necked Ducks are less common winter visitors to Lake Superior, but they can still be seen in some areas, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
  • Inland lakes and rivers: Ring-necked Ducks can also be found on inland lakes and rivers in Michigan, especially during the breeding season.

3. Redhead

Redhead

The Redhead is a larger diving duck that is common in Michigan during the winter. These ducks are known for their bright red heads and their black bodies. Redheads are excellent swimmers and divers, and they often dive for food in deep water.

Here are some simple tips for identifying Redhead Ducks in Michigan:

  • Size: Redhead Ducks are medium-sized ducks, measuring 18-23 inches long and weighing 2-3 pounds.
  • Shape: Redhead Ducks have a large head, short neck, and thick bill. Their bodies are plump and compact, with a rounded tail.
  • Color: Adult male Redhead Ducks are a dapper mixture of cinnamon head, black breast and tail, and neat gray body. Females and immatures are a plain, mostly uniform brown. Redheads have black-tipped, gray bills, and in flight they show gray flight feathers.
  • Behavior: Redhead Ducks are often seen swimming in small groups, diving for food. They may also be seen feeding on the surface of the water, tipping up to reach underwater plants.

Here are some places in Michigan where you might be able to see Redhead Ducks:

  • Lake Michigan: Redhead Ducks are common winter visitors to Lake Michigan, where they can be seen swimming in bays, harbors, and other protected waters.
  • Lake Huron: Redhead Ducks are also common winter visitors to Lake Huron, where they can be seen in similar habitats to those found on Lake Michigan.
  • Lake Superior: Redhead Ducks are less common winter visitors to Lake Superior, but they can still be seen in some areas, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
  • Inland lakes and rivers: Redhead Ducks can also be found on inland lakes and rivers in Michigan, especially during the breeding season.

4. Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

The Lesser Scaup is a small diving duck that is common in Michigan during the winter. These ducks are known for their black bodies and their white heads. Lesser Scaup are excellent swimmers and divers, and they often dive for food in deep water.

Here are some simple tips for identifying Lesser Scaup in Michigan:

  • Size: Lesser Scaup are medium-sized ducks, measuring 17-20 inches long and weighing 1.5-2 pounds.
  • Shape: Lesser Scaup have a large head, short neck, and thick bill. Their bodies are plump and compact, with a rounded tail.
  • Color: Adult male Lesser Scaup are black on the back and head, with a white patch on the face that extends to the back of the head. Their chest and flanks are white, and their underbelly is gray. Adult female Lesser Scaup are gray-brown overall, with a white cheek patch.
  • Behavior: Lesser Scaup are often seen swimming in small groups, diving for food. They may also be seen feeding on the surface of the water, tipping up to reach underwater plants.

Here are some places in Michigan where you might be able to see Lesser Scaup:

  • Lake Michigan: Lesser Scaup are common winter visitors to Lake Michigan, where they can be seen swimming in bays, harbors, and other protected waters.
  • Lake Huron: Lesser Scaup are also common winter visitors to Lake Huron, where they can be seen in similar habitats to those found on Lake Michigan.
  • Lake Superior: Lesser Scaup are less common winter visitors to Lake Superior, but they can still be seen in some areas, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
  • Inland lakes and rivers: Lesser Scaup can also be found on inland lakes and rivers in Michigan, especially during the breeding season.

5. Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

The Ruddy Duck is a small diving duck that is common in Michigan during the summer. These ducks are known for their red-brown bodies and their white faces. Ruddy Ducks are excellent swimmers and divers, and they often dive for food in shallow water.

Here are some simple tips for identifying Ruddy Ducks in Michigan:

  • Look for their size and shape. Ruddy Ducks are small, compact ducks with stout, scoop-shaped bills, and long, stiff tails they often hold cocked upward. They have slightly peaked heads and fairly short, thick necks.
  • Check for their breeding plumage. Male Ruddy Ducks have blackish caps that contrast with bright white cheeks. In summer, they have rich chestnut bodies with bright blue bills. In winter, they are dull gray-brown above and paler below with dull gray bills.
  • Look for their behavior. Ruddy Ducks are often seen swimming in small groups or pairs. They are also known to dive for food, and they often hold their heads tucked under a wing and their tail cocked up while they sleep.

Here are some of the places where you can find Ruddy Ducks in Michigan:

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Wetlands
  • Docks
  • Boathouses

Top 5 Tips for Identifying Small Diving Ducks in Michigan

Tip 1: Look at the Bill

The shape and color of a diving duck’s bill can be a helpful clue in identifying the species. For example, the ring-necked duck has a distinctive white ring around its bill, while the bufflehead has a small, round, black-and-white bill. The lesser scaup has a bluish-gray bill with a black tip, while the hooded merganser has a thin, pointed bill with a black tip and a distinctive white patch.

Tip 2: Observe the Plumage

The color and pattern of a diving duck’s plumage can also provide important clues for identification. For example, the male lesser scaup has a dark head with a greenish sheen, a black breast, and gray sides. The female has a brown head and body with a white patch around the bill. The bufflehead has a black-and-white pattern on its head and a white body, while the hooded merganser has a black-and-white head with a distinctive fan-shaped crest.

Tip 3: Check the Head Shape

The shape of a diving duck’s head can also be a helpful clue. For example, the ring-necked duck has a round head with a peaked crown, while the bufflehead has a distinctive round head with a large white patch behind the eye. The hooded merganser has a small, rounded head with a distinctive crest, while the lesser scaup has a more flattened head shape.

Tip 4: Pay Attention to Behavior

The behavior of diving ducks can also provide important clues for identification. For example, the hooded merganser is known for its unique courtship display, where the male raises its crest and swims in circles around the female. The lesser scaup is often found in larger flocks, while the bufflehead is typically seen in smaller groups or pairs.

Tip 5: Listen to the Call

Finally, the call of a diving duck can be a helpful clue in identifying the species. For example, the ring-necked duck has a distinctive “scaup” call, while the lesser scaup has a higher-pitched call. The hooded merganser has a distinctive whistling call, while the bufflehead has a soft, squeaky call.

Common Diving Ducks Found in Michigan

Michigan is home to a variety of diving ducks, and each species has its own unique characteristics. Some of the more common diving ducks found in Michigan include:

  • Lesser Scaup: A medium-sized duck with a bluish-gray bill and a black tip. The male has a dark head with a greenish sheen, a black breast, and gray sides. The female has a brown head and body with a white patch around the bill.
  • Ring-Necked Duck: A small duck with a distinctive white ring around the bill. The male has a black head, neck, and breast, with gray sides and a white patch on the back. The female has a brown head and body with a white patch around the bill.
  • Bufflehead: A small duck with a round black-and-white bill. The male has a black-and-white pattern on its head and a white body. The female has a smaller white patch on the cheek.
  • Hooded Merganser: A small duck with a thin, pointed bill and a distinctive fan-shaped crest. The male has a black-and-white head with a brown body. The female has a brown head and body with a distinctive crest.

Where to Find Diving Ducks in Michigan

Diving ducks can be found in a variety of habitats throughout Michigan, including lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Some of the best places to observe diving ducks in Michigan include:

  • The Straits of Mackinac: This area is a popular stopover for diving ducks during migration, with large flocks of lesser scaup and other species often seen.
  • Lake St. Clair: This lake is a popular wintering area for diving ducks, with large flocks of ring-necked ducks and other species often seen.
  • Pointe Mouillee State Game Area: This wetland area is a popular spot for birdwatching, with a variety of diving ducks and other waterfowl species often seen.

Tips for Observing Diving Ducks in the Wild

Observing diving ducks in the wild can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to do so in a responsible and respectful manner. Here are some tips for observing diving ducks in the wild:

  • Use binoculars or a spotting scope to observe the ducks from a distance.
  • Avoid disturbing the ducks by keeping a safe distance and avoiding sudden movements.
  • Do not feed the ducks or attempt to approach them.
  • Respect any posted signs or regulations regarding the observation of wildlife.

Conservation Efforts for Diving Ducks in Michigan

Many species of diving ducks face threats such as habitat loss, pollution, and hunting. Fortunately, there are many conservation efforts underway in Michigan to protect these birds and their habitats. These efforts include wetland restoration projects, habitat management, and public education programs.

By supporting these conservation efforts and practicing responsible wildlife observation, we can help ensure that Michigan’s diving duck population continues to thrive for generations to come.

Conclusion: Enjoying and Protecting Michigan’s Diving Duck Population

In conclusion, identifying diving ducks in Michigan can be a challenge, but with some practice and knowledge of their distinctive features, it is possible to tell them apart. By using the tips outlined in this article, you can start to narrow down the potential species of diving duck and appreciate the unique characteristics of each.

It’s important to remember that observing diving ducks in the wild should always be done in a responsible and respectful manner. By supporting conservation efforts and practicing responsible wildlife observation, we can help protect Michigan’s diving duck population and ensure that these fascinating birds continue to thrive.

Similar Posts