Anatidae – Swans, Geese & Ducks

Upland Goose Chloephaga picta ©Steven Brumby 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.

Species List

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

Species Links
  • Black Swan Cygnus atratus

    Species Account
    Image & notes
  • Black Swan Cygnus atratus

    Species Account
    In adult Black Swans the body is mostly black, with the exception of the broad white wing tips which are visible in flight. The bill is a deep orange-red, paler at the tip, with a distinct narrow white band towards the end. Younger birds are much greyer in colour, and have black wing tips. Adult females are smaller than the males.
  • Black Swan Cygnus atratus

    Species Account
    The black swan (Cygnus atratus) is a large waterbird, a species of swan, which breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia.
  • Black-headed Duck Heteronetta atricapilla

    Species Account
    This bird is normally found in Southern South America, mainly Chile and Argentina, but is a winter (i.e. July) migrant to southern Brazil, Uruguay and Bolivia…
  • Black-necked Swan Cygnus melanocorypha

    Images & notes
  • Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis

    BirdLife Species Account
    Full species account
  • Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis

    Species Account
    Species account...
  • Canada Goose Branta canadensis

    Species Account
    Species account…
  • Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus

    Species Account
    The Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) is a member of the duck, goose, and swan family Anatidae. It is native to Africa south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley.
  • Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

    Species Account
    The Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) is a moderately large, broad-bodied duck native to southern Australia. It is rare, and though protected by law, classified as endangered. Dark in colour with fine off-white speckles all over, it is most easily identified by its large head with a peaked (as opposed to rounded) crown…
  • Fulvous whistling-duck Dendrocygna bicolor

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile…
  • Fulvous whistling-duck Dendrocygna bicolor

    Cornell Species Account
    Cornell species account...
  • Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris

    Nearly twenty years have now passed since the introduction of a moratorium on the shooting of Greenland White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons flavirostris in Ireland and its protection from hunting in Scotland. The excellent collaboration between a wide range of enthusiasts, non-government organisations and government departments since that time has enabled regular winter counts to monitor the changes in abundance of the entire population. Over this period, the status of individual flocks and of the population as a whole has changed radically and there has been considerable interest in the patterns of such changes and their causes…
  • Kelp Goose Chloephaga hybrida

    Species Account
    The kelp goose (Spanish: Caranca or Cauquén Marino), Chloephaga hybrida, is a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. It is in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae. It can be found in the Southern part of South America - mainly in Patagonian Chile, Tierra del Fuego, and the Falkland Islands.
  • Lake Duck Oxyura vittata

    Species Account
    The lake duck (Oxyura vittata) is a small, South American stiff-tailed duck. It is also called the Argentine blue-bill, Argentine lake duck, or Argentine ruddy duck.
  • Lesser Whistling Duck Dendrocygna javanica

    Species Account
    Images - Called whistling ducks because of their call, they are also sometimes called tree ducks because they sometimes nest in tree holes!…
  • Maccoa Duck Oxyura maccoa

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Masked Duck Nomonyx dominicus

    Species Account
    The masked duck (Nomonyx dominicus) is a tiny stiff-tailed duck ranging through the tropical Americas.
  • Musk Duck Biziura lobata

    Species Account
    The male Musk Duck is the largest of Australia's ducks and has a powerful build. Musk Ducks get their name from the strong musk odour produced from a gland on the rump. The female is smaller than the male. Both male and female Musk Ducks are sooty-brown in plumage, with paler brown barring on the body and fine spots of the head.
  • Musk Duck Biziura lobata

    Species Account
    The musk duck (Biziura lobata) is a highly aquatic, stiff-tailed duck native to southern Australia. It is the only living member of the genus Biziura. An extinct relative, the New Zealand musk duck or de Lautour's duck (B. delautouri), once occurred on New Zealand, but is only known from prehistoric subfossil bones.
  • Mute Swan Cygnus olor

    Species Account
    he mute swan (Cygnus olor) is a species of swan and a member of the waterfowl family Anatidae.
  • Nene Branta sandvicensis

    BirdLife Species Account
    This inhabitant of Hawaii is an endangered bird that has made a rebound in the 1990s. Today the birds are genetically similar creating inbreeding that can harm their chance of survival in the long run…
  • Pink-Footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus

    Species Account
    The pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) is a goose which breeds in eastern Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard. It is migratory, wintering in northwest Europe, especially Great Britain, the Netherlands, and western Denmark. The name is often abbreviated in colloquial usage to "pinkfoot" (plural "pinkfeet").
  • Pintail Anas acuta

    RSPB Species Account
    Pintail facts & figures…
  • Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis

    Species Account
    The red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) is a brightly marked species of goose in the genus Branta from Eurasia.
  • Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile
  • Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

    N American esturine status
  • Smew Mergellus albellus

    RSPB Species Account
    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.
  • Snow Goose Anser caerulescens

    BirdLife Species Account
    Full species account...
  • Snow Goose Anser caerulescens

    Species Account
    Species account…
  • Swan Goose Anser cygnoides

    Species Account
    The swan goose (Anser cygnoides) is a rare large goose with a natural breeding range in inland Mongolia, northernmost China, and southeastern Russia. It is migratory and winters mainly in central and eastern China. Vagrant birds are encountered in Japan and Korea (where it used to winter in numbers when it was more common), and more rarely in Kazakhstan, Laos, coastal Siberia, Taiwan, Thailand and Uzbekistan
  • Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Torrent Duck Merganetta armata

    Species Account
    The torrent duck (Merganetta armata) is a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. It is the only member of the genus Merganetta. Today it is placed in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae after the "perching duck" assemblage where it was formerly assigned to was dissolved because it turned out to be paraphyletic.
  • Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator

    Species Account
    The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is a species of swan found in North America. The heaviest living bird native to North America, it is also the largest extant species of waterfowl with a wingspan that may exceed 10 ft (3.0 m).[2] It is the American counterpart and a close relative of the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) of Eurasia, and even has been considered the same species by some authorities.
  • Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator

    Cornell Species Account
    Trumpeter Swans demand superlatives: they’re our biggest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet in length and weighing more than 25 pounds, almost twice as massive as a Tundra Swan. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway.
  • Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus

    Species Account
    The tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) is a small Holarctic swan. The two taxa within it are usually regarded as conspecific, but are also sometimes[2][3] split into two species: Bewick's swan (Cygnus bewickii) of the Palaearctic and the whistling swan (C. columbianus) proper of the Nearctic.
  • Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus

    Cornell Species Account
    On wintry days, flocks of North America’s most numerous swans gather on lakes and estuaries or descend out of gray skies.
  • Upland Goose Chloephaga picta

    Species Account
    The upland goose or Magellan Goose (Chloephaga picta) is a sheldgoose of the shelduck-sheldgoose subfamily of the Anatidae, the biological family that includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl such as the geese and swans. This bird is indigenous to the southern part of South America.
  • White-faced Whistling-duck Dendrocygna viduata

    Species Account
    The white-faced whistling duck (Dendrocygna viduata) is a whistling duck that breeds in sub-Saharan Africa and much of South America.
  • White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala

    Species Account
    The white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) is a small stiff-tailed duck some 45 cm (18 in) long. The male has a white head with black crown, a blue bill, and reddish-grey plumage
  • Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus

    Species Account
    The whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), pronounced hooper swan, is a large Northern Hemisphere swan.
  • 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 | Dover Publications |2003 | Hardcover | 1920 pages' 74 Colour & 28 B&W plates, maps | ISBN: 9780486251417 Buy this book from
  • Atlas of Anatidae Populations in Africa and Western Eurasia

    | By Derek A Scott & Paul M Rose | Wetlands International Indonesia | 1996 | Paperback | 336 pages, 61 maps | ISBN: 9781900442091 Buy this book from
  • Bewick's Swan

    | By Eileen Rees | AD Poyser | 2006 | Hardback | 296 pages, 16 pages of colour photos, diagrams, tables | ISBN: 9780713665598 Buy this book from
  • Ducks, Geese & Swans

    | By Janet Kear | OUP | 2006 | Hardback | 832 pages, 30 colur plates, b/w illustrations, b/w distribution maps, tables | ISBN: 9780198546450 Buy this book from
  • Ducks, Geese & Swans of North America

    | By Frank Chapman Bellrose | 568 pages, Colour photos, illustrations | ISBN: 9780811705356 Buy this book from
  • Flight Identification of European Seabirds

    | By Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife & Niklas Holmstrom | Christopher Helm | 2007 | Paperback | 374 pages, 690 colour photos | ISBN: 9780713686166 Buy this book from
  • The Calls of Ducks and Geese

    | By Kevin Colver & Lang Elliott | Stackpole Books | 2008 | Paperback | 88 pages, 40 colour photos, includes audio CD | ISBN: 9780811734905 Buy this book from
  • The Common Eider

    | By Chris Waltho & John C Coulson | AD Poyser | 2015 | Hardback |352 pages, 10 plates with colour photos and colour distribution maps; b/w illustrations, b/w maps, tables | ISBN: 9781408125328 Buy this book from
  • The Mute Swan

    | By Mike Birkhead & Christopher Perrins | Christopher Helm | 1988 | Hardback | 158 pages, b/w photos, illus, tabs | ISBN: 9780709932598 Buy this book from
  • The Snow Geese

    | By William Fiennes | Picador | 2015 | Paperback | 256 pages | ISBN: 9781447275442 Buy this book from
  • The Social Life of Greylag Geese: Patterns, Mechanisms and Evolutionary Functions in an Avian Model System

    | Edited by Isabella BR Scheiber, Brigitte Weiß, Josef Hemetsberger & Kurt Kotrschal | Cambridge University Press | 2019 | | Paperback | 245 pages, 8 plates with colour photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations, tables | ISBN: 9781108810555 Buy this book from
  • The Wood Duck and the Mandarin

    | (The Northern Wood Ducks) | by Lawton Shurtleff & Christopher Savage | UCP | 1996 | Hardback | 232 pages, 280 col photos, 8 maps | ISBN: 9780520208124 Buy this book from
  • Whooper Swan

    | By Mark Brazil | A&C Black | 2003 | Hardback | 512 pages, 14 colour plates, b/w photos, line illustrations, figures, tables, maps | ISBN: 9780713665703 Buy this book from
  • Wildfowl

    | (An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World) | by Steve Madge & Hilary Burn | Christopher Helm | 1992 | Hardback | 304 pages, 47 colour plates (depicting 700 birds), 155 distribution maps, line illustrations | ISBN: 9780713636475 Buy this book from
  • 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…
  • Kelp Goose Chloephaga hybrida

    Excellent image+Account
  • Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata

    Excellent image
  • Mute Swan Cygnus olor

    Superb head shot…
  • Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

    Good images
  • Ruddy-headed Goose Chloephaga rubidiceps

    Excellent image+Account
  • Swan Goose Anser cygnoides

    EBird Image
    Good image…
  • Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis

    Excellent image
  • Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus

    Excellent image+Account
  • Upland Goose Chloephaga picta

    Excellent image+Account
  • Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus

    Excellent photograph

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