Anatidae – Swans, Geese & Ducks

Mute Swan Cygnus olor ©Ashley Beolens Website

The family Anatidae comprises about 173 species of birds and includes the swans, geese and ducks. This is a widespread and familiar group often known collectively as wildfowl. They are highly successful, occurring throughout the world wherever there is water, from inside the Arctic Circle to the tropics.

Part of their success is due to their enormous diversity; they range in size range from huge Whooper Swans, down to Teal and even tinier pigmy-geese. They exploit a wide range of ecological niches for, while all wildfowl are competent swimmers, some, such as geese and wigeon feed extensively on land, while others, particularly diving ducks, obtain all their food underwater and are consequently quite clumsy on their feet. These differences underlie the success that wildfowl have had in exploiting the enormous range of ecological niches which are provided by diverse wetland habitats.

This adaptability extends to their breeding cycle, for some species such as Goldeneye and Mandarins will happily set up home in a nest box high in a tree, while others such as the Shelduck often nest underground in an old rabbit burrow or fox earth. Indeed, I have seen a pair of Shelduck hatch a brood of young in an occupied fox earth alongside a vixen with three cubs, supporting the old view of the unpalatability of Shelduck to both man and beast!

In many ways, ducks are all things to all birdwatchers; drakes in full breeding plumage are boldly marked, brightly coloured, ostentatious and generally easy to identify. Females are more subtle, cryptically patterned with browns and fawns, cautious and reclusive in behaviour when nesting, courageous and determined when shepherding broods of ducklings across a landscape filled with predators.

For many children ‘feeding the ducks’ is their earliest introduction to birds in their environment. These birds can be very tame and approachable, allowing an easy appreciation of their bright plumage and raucous voices. But sadly wildfowl often receive a mixed reception amongst older birdwatchers. While many happily enjoy their brightness and accessibility, there are those who feel their enjoyment compromised by the possibility that the rare and gorgeous creature before them may only be at temporary liberty from some captive collection. It is difficult to ignore the risk of escapes, but at the end of the day the ‘rare and gorgeous creature’ is a living breathing entity and should be enjoyed for its intrinsic beauty rather than its arbitrary status.

For me, the appeal of wildfowl is as much in their complex lives as in the subtleties of their plumage. They have intricate social lives and many mate for life; they migrate over vast distances to lands I will never see, and inhabit some of the last truly wild places in our shrinking world and encourage me to spend time there. Every one I see carries a message reminding me of our collective past and of our hopes for the future, encapsulated in colours and shapes which are the very essence of style and beauty.

According to the IOC the are 173 species of ducks, geese & swans forming the family Anatidae are:

White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata
Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis
Spotted Whistling Duck Dendrocygna guttata
West Indian Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arborea
Fulvous Whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor
Plumed Whistling Duck Dendrocygna eytoni
Wandering Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arcuata
Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica

White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus

Cape Barren Goose Cereopsis novaehollandiae

Brant Goose Branta bernicla
Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis
Nene Branta sandvicensis
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus
Emperor Goose Anser canagicus
Ross’s Goose Anser rossii
Snow Goose Anser caerulescens
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides
Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus
Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus

Coscoroba Swan Coscoroba coscoroba

Black Swan Cygnus atratus
Black-necked Swan Cygnus melancoryphus
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

Blue Duck Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos

Flying Steamer Duck Tachyeres patachonicus
Fuegian Steamer Duck Tachyeres pteneres
Falkland Steamer Duck Tachyeres brachypterus
Chubut Steamer Duck Tachyeres leucocephalus

Torrent Duck Merganetta armata

Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis

Comb Duck Sarkidiornis sylvicola
Knob-billed Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos

Blue-winged Goose Cyanochen cyanoptera

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
Mauritius Sheldgoose Alopochen mauritiana
Reunion Sheldgoose Alopochen kervazoi

Orinoco Goose Neochen jubata

Andean Goose Chloephaga melanoptera
Upland Goose Chloephaga picta
Kelp Goose Chloephaga hybrida
Ashy-headed Goose Chloephaga poliocephala
Ruddy-headed Goose Chloephaga rubidiceps

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Raja Shelduck Tadorna radjah
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
South African Shelduck Tadorna cana
Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides
Paradise Shelduck Tadorna variegata
Crested Shelduck Tadorna cristata

Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus

Salvadori’s Teal Salvadorina waigiuensis

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata

White-winged Duck Asarcornis scutulata

Hartlaub’s Duck Pteronetta hartlaubii

Wood Duck Aix sponsa
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata

African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus
Cotton Pygmy Goose Nettapus coromandelianus
Green Pygmy Goose Nettapus pulchellus

Brazilian Teal Amazonetta brasiliensis

Ringed Teal Callonetta leucophrys

Crested Duck Lophonetta specularioides

Bronze-winged Duck Speculanas specularis

Cape Teal Anas capensis
Gadwall Anas strepera
Falcated Duck Anas falcata
Chiloe Wigeon Anas sibilatrix
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope
American Wigeon Anas americana
Amsterdam Wigeon Anas marecula
African Black Duck Anas sparsa
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Mottled Duck Anas fulvigula
Mexican Duck Anas diazi
Hawaiian Duck Anas wyvilliana
Laysan Duck Anas laysanensis
Philippine Duck Anas luzonica
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa
Indian Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha
Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha
Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata
Meller’s Duck Anas melleri
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera
Cape Shoveler Anas smithii
Red Shoveler Anas platalea
Australasian Shoveler Anas rhynchotis
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Bernier’s Teal Anas bernieri
Mascarene Teal Anas theodori
Sunda Teal Anas gibberifrons
Andaman Teal Anas albogularis
Grey Teal Anas gracilis
Chestnut Teal Anas castanea
Auckland Teal Anas aucklandica
Campbell Teal Anas nesiotis
Brown Teal Anas chlorotis
White-cheeked Pintail Anas bahamensis
Red-billed Teal Anas erythrorhyncha
Yellow-billed Teal Anas flavirostris
Andean Teal Anas andium
Yellow-billed Pintail Anas georgica
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Eaton’s Pintail Anas eatoni
Garganey Anas querquedula
Baikal Teal Anas formosa
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis
Silver Teal Anas versicolor
Puna Teal Anas puna
Hottentot Teal Anas hottentota

Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris

Pink-headed Duck Rhodonessa caryophyllacea

Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Rosy-billed Pochard Netta peposaca
Southern Pochard Netta erythrophthalma

Canvasback Aythya valisineria
Redhead Aythya americana
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Hardhead Aythya australis
Madagascan Pochard Aythya innotata
Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca
New Zealand Scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Greater Scaup Aythya marila
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis

Steller’s Eider Polysticta stelleri

Spectacled Eider Somateria fischeri
King Eider Somateria spectabilis
Common Eider Somateria mollissima

Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus

Labrador Duck Camptorhynchus labradorius

Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca
White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
Black Scoter Melanitta americana

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis

Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephala islandica

Smew Mergellus albellus

Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus

New Zealand Merganser Mergus australis
Brazilian Merganser Mergus octosetaceus
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus

Black-headed Duck Heteronetta atricapilla

Masked Duck Nomonyx dominicus

Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Andean Duck Oxyura ferruginea
Lake Duck Oxyura vittata
Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis
Maccoa Duck Oxyura maccoa
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala

Musk Duck Biziura lobata

  • Norman McCanch

    Kent, UK

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 173

    IOC Figure... HBW considers there to be 148
Useful Reading
  • A Natural History of the Ducks

    Vol 1 and Vol 2 Bound in One Book by John C. Phillips Hardcover - 960 pages (1986) Dover Publications ISBN: 0486251411 Buy this book from
  • Atlas of Anatidae Populations in Africa and Western Eurasia

    by Derek A Scott and Paul M Rose - 336 pages, 61 maps. Wetlands International, Netherlands Paperback ISBN: 1900442094 Buy this book from
  • Bewick's Swan

    by Eileen Rees - Series: POYSER MONOGRAPHS 296 pages, 16 pages of colour photos, diagrams, tables. Christopher Helm 2006 ISBN: 0713665599 Buy this book from
  • Ducks, Geese & Swans

    by Janet Kear [Illustrated by Mark Hulme] OUP 2005 [2 volumes] ISBN: 0198546459 Buy this book from
  • Ducks, Geese & Swans of North America

    by Frank Chapman Bellrose & Francis H Kortright Hardcover - 543 pages 2nd Edition (1998) Stackpole Books ISBN: 0811705358 Buy this book from
  • Flight Identification of European Seabirds

    by Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife & Niklas Holmstrom from Christopher Helm April 2003 Price £35. See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 0713660201 Buy this book from
  • The Calls of Ducks and Geese

    Kevin Colver & Lang Elliott NYP 2008 ISBN: 0811734900 Buy this book from
  • The Common Eider

    by Chris Waltho & John C Coulson | Poyser Monographs 2015 | Hardback | 352 pages | 10 plates with colour photos | colour distribution maps| b/w illustrations | b/w maps & tables |
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: 9781408125328 Buy this book from
  • The Mute Swan

    by Mike Birkhead and Christopher Perrins158 pages, b/w photos, illus, tabs.Christopher Helm 1986 ISBN: 0709932596 Buy this book from
  • The Snow Geese

    by William Fiennes Hardcover - 256 pages (2002) Picador ISBN: 0330375784 Buy this book from
  • The Social Life of Greylag Geese: Patterns, Mechanisms and Evolutionary Functions in an Avian Model System

    by Isabella BR Scheiber (Editor), Brigitte Weiß (Editor), Josef Hemetsberger (Editor), Kurt Kotrschal (Editor) | Hardback | Aug 2013 | ISBN: 9780521822701 Buy this book from
  • The Status and Conservation of the Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris

    by A Green Series: WETLANDS INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATION 23 108 pages, tabs. Wetlands International 1993 ISBN: 25217 Buy this book from
  • The Wood Duck and the Mandarin

    - The Northern Wood Ducks - by Lawton Shurtleff and Christopher Savage232 pages, 280 col photos, 8 maps.California University Press 1996 ISBN: 0520208129 Buy this book from
  • Whooper Swan

    Mark Brazil - Helm 2003 ISBN: 071366570X Buy this book from
  • Wildfowl

    An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World. by Steve Madge & Hilary Burn - Helm 1988 ISBN: 0713636475 Buy this book from
  • Atlantic Flyway Tundra Swan Research

    North Carolina plays a vital role in the yearly cycle of the Eastern Population of tundra swans, wintering more swans, by far, than any other state on the East Coast. Each fall, approximately 65 - 75 thousand swans migrate to northeastern North Carolina to take advantage of the abundant food sources found in our lakes, sounds and farms. The approximately 25 thousand remaining swans in this population winter in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and New Jersey. A separate Western Population exists that winters in several western states including California, Nevada, and Utah...
  • Brown Teal Anas chlorotis Conservation

    The Brown Teal Anas chlorotis, or pateke, is an endemic New Zealand species of the worldwide Anas genus of dabbling ducks within the family Anatidae. Within this large genus, Brown Teal are included in the informal grouping of Austral Teal. From New Zealand, the grey teal A. gracilis, Campbell Island teal A. nesiotis, and Auckland Island teal A. aucklandica are also included
  • International Goose Research Group

    International Goose Research Group
  • Trumpter Swan Society

    We try to keep the best list of Trumpeter and other swan links available on the web
Other Links
  • Flight Identification of European Seabirds

    Seawatching has been gaining popularity in recent years, whether watching from traditional coastal sites or from boats while on specific pelagic trips in search of seabirds and whales. Many seabirds will only be seen in flight, as they pass by prominent headlands or fly past boats, and viewing opportunities are frequently brief. This forthcoming book is the essential field guide for seawatching, specifically designed to address the particular problems and limitations with this kind of birding.
Photographers & Artists
  • Black Swan Cygnus atratus

    BirdLife species profile...
  • Black-necked Swan Cygnus melanocorypha

    Beautiful, but dark, image
  • Black-necked Swan Cygnus melanocorypha

    Excellent image of flock…
  • Black-necked Swan Cygnus melanocorypha

    Excellent image…
  • Kelp Goose Chloephaga hybrida

    Excellent image…
  • Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata

    Excellent image
  • Mute Swan Cygnus olor

    Superb head shot…
  • Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

    Good images
  • Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

    Good image
  • Ruddy-headed Goose Chloephaga rubidiceps

    Excellent photo…
  • Swan Goose Anser cygnoides

    Good image…
  • Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis

    Excellent image
  • Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus

    Nice group image…
  • Upland Goose Chloephaga picta

    Excellent image
  • Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus

    Good images
  • Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus

    Excellent photograph

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