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It’s in your nature: Dabbling ducks

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    The mallard, the most well-known duck, is the easiest dabbling duck to identify. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    The American wigeon (also called the baldpate) can be found locally during the spring and fall migrations. This duck fed in the shallows at Beltzville Lake.

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    This blue-winged teal, one of the smallest dabbling ducks, spent a few days feeding at the Phifer Ice Dam in Franklin Township.

Published July 27. 2018 09:52PM

In a recent column I introduced the diving ducks to you. They included the grebes, ring-necked ducks, and merganser species that dove under water either to catch fish or eat submerged vegetation. But there exists another type of ducks called the dabbling ducks.

The “dabblers” tip over to feed, generally in shallower ponds and explode from the water surface when they take off. Quite unlike most of the diving ducks that appear to run across the water surface in order to take flight.

One species of dabblers familiar to most of you is the mallard duck. Others are black ducks, blue-winged and green-winged teal, wigeon, and pintails.

Other than mallards, many of the dabblers prefer the pothole prairie areas of the Midwest where they breed and feed. Those shallower bodies of water are more suitable to their feeding styles. Mallards and the other dabblers are the ducks you see “bottoms up” in a pond. They tip over to feed, leaving their behinds above water.

Mallard ducks feed primarily on underwater vegetation but will feed on shore grasses as well. They are probably the most adaptable and can be found from city ponds to mountain lakes. (Almost everywhere in the U.S.)

The hen mallard builds the nest, lays six to 12 eggs, broods them for 20 to 25 days and then watches over the ducklings. The male has almost no role.

Pintails are very beautiful ducks with an elegant brown head and white breast and neck stripe. They, like the other dabblers, explode from the water surface and are very swift and graceful fliers. They are most common in the Midwest and migrate mostly in the central flyway (central U.S.).

Beltzville Dam offers a stopover spot for some during the spring migration. You may see them with green-winged teal, the less common blue-winged teal, black ducks and wigeon. Look closer to shore/shallower water where it is more advantageous for them to feed.

If you enjoy observing water fowl, and in particular the dabblers, I recommend taking about a three-hour road trip to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, where you may see thousands of dabblers in the shallow ponds built to offer refuge and feeding areas for the migrants.

Bombay Hook is a short drive south of Dover, Delaware. The bay areas of both Chincoteague and Assateague Islands in Virginia and Maryland prospectively offer opportunities, but are a bit farther to drive.

Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge in Southern New Jersey is also excellent. I would recommend visiting any of these before mid-March before the ducks return to their breeding areas.

Black duck numbers have been on the decline for many years. This is not because of loss of habitat as may be assumed, but by crossbreeding with mallard ducks. The hybrids from that breeding are infertile so no population increases can occur.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: A snake uses its forked tongue for: A. smelling, B. sense of touch, C. hearing, D. administering its poison.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: A ladybird beetle doesn’t need to blend in with protective coloration. Its bright colors would advertise a mild toxin, so if you were a bird you should “snub your nose” to this possible meal.

Contact Barry Reed at

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