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Swans, ducks and geese

Male shoveler flying

Image: Graham Catley

The ‘wildfowl’ are medium to large birds with rather long or very long necks, mostly short, broad bills, short legs and the front three toes joined by webs.

There are specialised groups, such as the mergansers (‘sawbills’), which have saw-tooth edges to more slender, hooked bills, which help them to grasp fish.

Swans are the largest and longest-necked; one resident in the UK, two visit from autumn to spring.

Geese are divided into two main groups, the ‘grey’ geese (including the greylag) and the ‘black’ geese, such as brent and barnacle geese. One of the most widespread, the Canada goose, is not native, but introduced to the UK from North America.

Ducks are roughly divided into ‘surface feeders’, which rarely dive, and ‘diving ducks’, which dive under for food. Several of the latter are found on the sea. Shelducks are intermediate in some respects between ducks and geese.

Barnacle goose

A medium-sized, sociable goose, with black head, neck and breast with creamy-white face, which contrasts with the white belly, blue-grey barred back and black tail. It flies in packs and long lines, w... More...

Barnacle goose

Bean goose

The bean goose is one of the 'grey geese'. It tends to be darker and browner than the other species in this group, and to have a darker head and neck. It breeds in north Scandinavia, north Russia and ... More...

Bean goose

Bewick's swan

Adults are white all over and young birds greyish with a pinkish bill. Compared to the similar whooper swan, these swans have proportionally more black and less yellow on their bill. They're also smal... More...

Bewick's swan

Brent goose

A small, dark goose - the same size as a mallard. It has a black head and neck and grey-brown back, with either a pale or dark belly, depending on the race. Adults have a small white neck patch. It fl... More...

Brent goose

Canada goose

A large goose, with a distinctive black head and neck and large white throat patch. An introduced species from N America, it has successfully spread to cover most of the UK. It forms noisy flocks and ... More...

Canada goose

Common scoter

An all dark seaduck, the male is totally black and the female lighter, with a pale face. They are often seen as large bobbing rafts offshore, or long straggling lines flying along the coast. The UK br... More...

Common scoter

Eider

The UK's heaviest duck, and its fastest flying. It is a true seaduck, rarely found away from coasts where its dependence on coastal molluscs for food has brought it into conflict with mussel farmers. ... More...

Eider

Egyptian goose

Related to the shelduck, this pale brown and grey goose has distinctive dark brown eye-patches and contrasting white wing patches in flight. It was introduced as an ornamental wildfowl species and has... More...

Egyptian goose

Gadwall

This very grey-coloured dabbling duck, a little smaller than the mallard, and with an obvious black rear end. It shows a white wing patch in flight. When seen close up the grey colour is made up of ... More...

Gadwall

Garganey

The garganey is a scarce and very secretive breeding duck in the UK. It is smaller than a mallard and slightly bigger than a teal. The male is most easily recognised with a broad white stripe over th... More...

Garganey

Goldeneye

A medium sized diving duck. Males look black and white with a greenish black head and a circular white patch in front of the yellow eye. Females are smaller, and are mottled grey with a chocolate bro... More...

Goldeneye

Goosander

These handsome diving ducks are a member of the sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish. A largely freshwater bird, the goosander first bred in the UK i... More...

Goosander

Greylag goose

The ancestor of most domestic geese, the greylag is the largest and bulkiest of the wild geese native to the UK and Europe. In many parts of the UK it has been re-established by releasing birds in sui... More...

Greylag goose

Long-tailed duck

The long-tailed duck is a small, neat sea duck. They have small round heads and steep foreheads. In winter, the male is mainly white with some brownish-black markings. He also has greatly elongated ta... More...

Long-tailed duck

Mallard

The mallard is a large and heavy looking duck. It has a long body and a long and broad bill. The male has a dark green head, a yellow bill, is mainly purple-brown on the breast and grey on the body. T... More...

Mallard

Mandarin

The male has the most elaborate and ornate plumage with distinctive long orange feathers on the side of the face, orange 'sails' on the back, and pale orange flanks. The female is dull by comparison w... More...

Mandarin

Mute swan

The mute swan is a very large white waterbird. It has a long S-shaped neck, and an orange bill with black at the base of it. Flies with its neck extended and regular slow wingbeats. The population in ... More...

Mute swan

Pink-footed goose

The pink-footed goose is a medium-sized goose, smaller than a mute swan but bigger than a mallard. It is pinkish grey with a dark head and neck, a pink bill and pink feet and legs. This species does n... More...

Pink-footed goose

Pintail

Slightly bigger than a mallard, these long-necked and small-headed ducks fly with a curved back pointed wings and a tapering tail, making this the best way to distinguish them from other ducks in the ... More...

Pintail

Pochard

In winter and spring, male pochards are very distinctive. They have a bright reddish-brown head, a black breast and tail and a pale grey body. Females are more easily confused with other species; they... More...

Pochard

Red-breasted merganser

These handsome diving ducks belong to the sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish. Their diet of fish such as salmon and trout has brought them into con... More...

Red-breasted merganser

Ruddy duck

Ruddy ducks are small, stout freshwater diving ducks with broad, short wings and narrow, stiff tails. The male ruddy duck has a bright chestnut body, black crown, white cheeks and blue bill. They swim... More...

Ruddy duck

Scaup

Scaup are diving ducks with a resemblance to tufted ducks. Males have black heads, shoulder and breast, white flanks, grey back and a black tail. Females are brown, with characteristic white patches a... More...

Scaup

Shelduck

This is a big, colourful duck, bigger than a mallard but smaller than a goose. Both sexes have a dark green head and neck, a chestnut belly stripe and a red bill.... More...

Shelduck

Shoveler

Shovelers are surface feeing ducks with huge spatulate bills. Males have dark green heads, with white breasts and chestnut flanks. Females are mottled brown. In flight birds show patches of light blue... More...

Shoveler

Smew

The smew is a small compact diving duck with a delicate bill. The male is white with a black mask and a black back, the female is grey with a reddish-brown head and white cheek. In flight, it shows bl... More...

Smew

Teal

Teals are small dabbling ducks. Males have chestnut coloured heads with broad green eye-patches, a spotted chest, grey flanks and a black edged yellow tail. Females are mottled brown. Both show bright... More...

Teal

Tufted duck

The tufted duck is a medium-sized diving duck, smaller than a mallard. It is black on the head, neck, breast and back and white on the sides. It has a small crest and a yellow eye. In flight it shows ... More...

Tufted duck

Velvet scoter

The velvet scoter is a black seaduck. It has a long bill, a thick neck and a pointed tail. In flight, it shows a white patch on the rear of the wing - this can also be seen when birds sitting on the s... More...

Velvet scoter

Wigeon

The wigeon is a medium-sized duck with a round head and small bill. The head and neck of the male are chestnut, with a yellow forehead, pink breast and grey body. In flight birds show white bellies an... More...

Wigeon

White-fronted goose

The white-fronted goose is a grey goose, bigger than a mallard and smaller than a mute swan. Adults have a large white patch at the front of the head around the beak and bold black bars on the belly. ... More...

White-fronted goose

Whooper swan

The whooper swan is a large white swan, bigger than a Bewick's swan. It has a long thin neck, which it usually holds erect, and black legs. Its black bill has a large triangular patch of yellow on it.... More...

Whooper swan