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IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

In a world where male ducks sport gleaming patches of green, red, or blue, the Gadwall’s understated elegance can make this common duck easy to overlook. Males are intricately patterned with gray, brown, and black; females resemble female Mallards, although with a thinner, darker bill. We don’t tend to think of ducks as pirates, but Gadwall often snatch food from diving ducks as they surface. This widespread, adaptable duck has dramatically increased in numbers in North America since the 1980s.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Gadwall are about the same size as Mallards. Gadwall have a fairly large, square head with a steep forehead. The bill is noticeably thinner than a Mallard's. In flight, the neck is slightly thinner and the wings slightly more slender than a Mallard’s.

  • Color Pattern

    Male Gadwall are gray-brown with a black patch at the tail. Females are patterned with brown and buff. Females have a thin orange edge to their dark bills. In flight, both sexes have a white wing patch that is sometimes visible while swimming or resting.

  • Behavior

    Gadwall feed with other dabbling ducks, tipping forward to feed on submerged vegetation without diving. They sometimes steal food from flocks of diving ducks or coots. You'll often see these ducks in pairs through the winter, because they select their mates for the breeding season as early as late fall.

  • Habitat

    Gadwall breed mainly in the Great Plains and prairies. On migration and in winter, look for Gadwall in reservoirs, ponds, fresh and salt water marshes, city parks, sewage ponds, or muddy edges of estuaries.

Range Map Help

Gadwall Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

Male Gadwall are drabber than most other male ducks. Their rather uniform body coloration, lacking a white patch in front of the black rear end, helps to separate them from American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal,, and Blue-winged Teal. Female Gadwall are easily overlooked as female Mallards, so look for the female Gadwall's thinner bill with an orange stripe along the lower edge. Female Mallards have a thicker bill with orange blotches on the top. Gadwall have squarer heads than Mallards. Look for the white inner secondary feathers to rule out Mallard and other brown female ducks. In flight, Gadwall’s white belly readily separates them from female Mallards. Female American Wigeon have a white patch on the wing, but this patch is on the upperwing coverts—in the center of the wing. To separate female Gadwall from female teal, concentrate on size. Gadwall are larger than female Blue-winged Teal or Green-winged Teal. Both species of teal are petite with entirely dark bills.

Find This Bird

Look for Gadwall on small bodies of water with plenty of aquatic vegetation; Gadwall often feed in slightly deeper water than other dabbling ducks. They associate with many other duck species, and on a quick scan you may miss the males because of their subdued brown appearance—keep an eye out for their black rear ends, white wing-patch (formed by the inner secondary feathers), and intricately patterned, not streaked or spotted, plumage.



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