In North America and all through a lot of the world the place waterfowl are discovered, there exist two elementary classes of geese, the dabbling geese and the diving geese. There are different households of waterfowl, similar to the ocean geese and tree geese, however it’s the dabbling and diving geese, or as they’re identified in short, the puddlers and the divers, with which most hunters are acquainted and pursue throughout the looking season.

Diving Geese vs Dabbling Geese

Waterfowl are and have been, a minimum of amongst those that hunt them, been categorized into both the dabbling duck clan or the diving geese based mostly for essentially the most half on how they feed. Dabbling geese receive their meals, typically crops and seeds, in shallow water through a way generally known as “tipping up.” Dabblers like mallards upend themselves, tail feathers to the sky, whereas they search at or simply under the floor of the water for gadgets similar to coontail, millet, smartweed seeds, and a wide range of small aquatic bugs. Typically talking, the water most well-liked by dabbling geese ranges from nearly nothing to roughly a foot or so.

Diving geese, however, do as their identify suggests, diving from 10 to 30 ft deep as they forage for clams, mussels, crayfish, crabs, and deeply submerged vegetation. To facilitate these foraging expeditions, a diving duck’s legs are positioned farther to the rear of their physique than could be a dabbler’s, whose mid-body legs make strolling on dry, soggy floor a lot simpler and fewer clumsy. Diving geese’ wings, too, are sometimes extra slender and their our bodies extra streamlined to make diving and shifting by the water as they seek for meals a lot simpler. 

One other distinction between the dabblers and divers, albeit to this author an unfair assumption, is that puddle geese make for significantly better desk fare than do divers merely resulting from diets. A corn-fed mallard duck, many waterfowlers declare, will style higher than any scaup or bufflehead. Nonetheless, I’ve loved many a positive scaup stir-fry, roasting mallards that had been beforehand gorging themselves on winter-killed gizzard shad. It’s all within the particular looking event, the chicken, the weight loss program, and, after all, the chef.

Let’s take a better have a look at among the extra acquainted divers, people who waterfowlers from Florida to Washington and all over the place in between may encounter, both deliberately or as a “bonus chicken” added to the bag because it skirts the sting of a conventional puddle duck unfold.

Diving Geese: Lesser and Larger Scaup

Often known as “bluebills” resulting from their heavy black-tipped powder blue payments/beaks, scaup could be present in all 4 flyways. There are two subspecies of scaup: the larger, and the lesser. They do look comparable, although the larger scaup will present white atop the wing from the physique to the tip of the first feathers, whereas the white on the lesser will cease about midway. Greaters, too, are barely bigger than lessers, have extra rounded quite than peaked head, and, below very best lighting, will exhibit a inexperienced iridescence on the pinnacle versus the lesser’s purplish tones. Hens of each subspecies are brown general, with a equally heavy although barely subdued invoice and a white facial patch forward of their yellow-orange eye.

Bluebills (scaup) are most plentiful within the Atlantic and Pacific flyways, the place they collect on giant our bodies of water in expansive flocks, aka “rafts” typically numbering within the hundreds. Although scaup could be efficiently hunted from shore, waterfowl hunters sometimes goal them in open water, typically from low-profile structure boats, surrounded by dozens upon dozens of decoys.


These tasty waterfowl are present in all 4 flyways, with the bulk taken within the Pacific, Mississippi, and Atlantic corridors. Adobe Inventory / Gregory Johnston

Redheads, just like the canvasbacks you’ll examine shortly, are devilishly good-looking birds. Hen redheads are a well-camouflaged brown with softer, mottled shades, a barely darker again, and a grayish, black-tipped invoice. Drakes are unmistakable, and sport their namesake brownish-red head, shiny black chest and tail, and a salt-and-pepper midsection. Their spherical, puffy head provides solution to an excellent blue invoice, additionally tipped in black. Like most divers, redheads trip low within the water and focus their diets totally on aquatic vegetation with a smattering of shellfish and smaller crustaceans, when obtainable. These tasty waterfowl are present in all 4 flyways, with the bulk taken within the Pacific, Mississippi, and Atlantic corridors. They’re at house on each freshwater and saltwater, and whereas redheads are sometimes seen on shallow ponds and impoundments, they’re extra frequent on larger lakes and rivers.

Like bluebills, redheads are historically focused over open water, with hunters setting giant (100-plus) decoy spreads and taking pictures both from structure boats or anchored boat blinds.


Photo of a canvasback duck flying
Canvasbacks are discovered nationwide within the U.S., however the greatest numbers are taken within the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. Adobe Inventory / rayhennessy

Sometimes called the “king of waterfowl,” the lordly canvasback is considerably comparable in look to the redhead. Just like the hen redhead, the feminine canvasback is drab. Nonetheless, along with her mushy brown head, darker chest, and lightweight gray midsection, she’s a bit extra showy. The drake? He’s brutishly spectacular and sports activities a cinnamon purple head, “evil” purple eye, black fore and aft, and whitish-silver midsection that earns him the favored “silverback” moniker. Each drakes and hens exhibit a radically sloping brow and heavy, black, wedge-shaped invoice. Canvasbacks desire deeper water haunts, the place they dive for submerged vegetation, seeds, and smaller mollusks like zebra mussels and fingernail clams. Canvasbacks are discovered nationwide within the U.S., however the greatest numbers are taken within the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. Pool 9, for instance, on the Mississippi River close to Lynxville, Wisconsin, will maintain upwards of half one million canvasbacks come late November and into early December.

Once more, like scaup and redheads, canvasbacks are often hunted over open water behind a decoy unfold numbering effectively into the triple digits. Canvasbacks have been a favourite diving duck amongst market hunters throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, with particular person birds typically commanding the outrageous worth of $2 per chicken. As a result of chicken’s reputation, the inhabitants dwindled to dangerously low numbers. Nonetheless, because of conservation efforts, rigorously monitored harvest figures, and even a sequence of harvest closures, canvasback numbers have rebounded.


Photo of a bufflehead swimming
Hen buffies are largely brown in shade, with a lighter chest and a darkish again and head—the latter marked with a small white cheek patch. Adobe Inventory / ranchorunner

“The teal of the diver world” is how certainly one of my good mates, a devoted diver fanatic, described the diminutive bufflehead. Typically weighing lower than a pound, the drake bufflehead is as handsome as he’s tiny. The drake has a white chest and sides accented with a shiny black again. The white crest on the drake’s black head is a superb area identifier, as are his white wing-stripes (seen in flight) and strange-looking pink ft deployed as he lands among the many decoys. His invoice is small, but robust—excellent for grubbing about underwater for aquatic bugs, worms, snails, crayfish, and small mollusks. Hen buffies are largely brown in shade, with a lighter chest and a darkish again and head—the latter marked with a small white cheek patch. Buffleheads can typically be discovered on bigger our bodies of water, however pairs and smaller teams will frequent freshwater ponds and canals.

Buffleheads, like canvasbacks, appear to be a bit extra species-specific on the subject of rubbing elbows with different waterfowl. These wishing to focus on buffleheads, or for that matter, canvasbacks or goldeneyes, ought to set a handful of drake bufflehead decoys off to 1 facet of the unfold. The stark black-and-white look of the drakes gives glorious visibility at a distance and over open water.

There are different diving geese waterfowlers may encounter all through the season, together with ring-necks; frequent and Barrows goldeneyes; frequent, red-breasted, and hooded mergansers; and long-tailed geese. These looking in marine environments might come throughout any variety of sea-faring divers, similar to frequent eiders or the scoters, which embody surf, white-winged, and black scoters. 

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