Among the duck species, mallards are probably the most well-known ducks in Germany that occur in the wild. They are easy to identify. However, there are other magnificent specimens to admire.

Identifying made easy

  • three toes pointing forward
  • between webbed feet
  • live mainly in the water
  • relatively long and broad body
  • short, powerful wings
  • flat and broad beaks
  • Males with magnificent plumage

There are some duck species that can be found in Germany all year round. Other ducks usually only spend the winter in this country from October/November to April/May. To identify more or less well-known duck species, here are a few short profiles. In general, ducks can be classified as follows.

Swimming ducks (Anatini)

Also known as green ducks, they are the most common of the native duck species. Male animals are easy to identify by their magnificent plumage. Females tend to appear in inconspicuous shades of brown. The males only briefly adapt to the coloring of the females during moulting. They “bottom up” when they eat. Only part of the body, the head and neck, is submerged. The swimming ducks are also divided into different genera:


Brautente (Aix sponsa)

  • Size: 44 to 51 cm
  • Wingspan: 68 to 74 cm
  • Male: Metallic green head, crest and back, white stripes on head, chin and flanks, black cheeks, chestnut red chest with triangular white spots, orange-red eye ring and iris, red top of bill with black nail, dark underparts, dark yellow to black-brown legs
  • Females: gray head, grey-brown breast, back slightly glossy purplish green, white chin and throat, white ring under eye, dark brown flanks with beige teardrop pattern, bronze-brown tail, black-spotted bill, dark brown iris
  • Occurrence: all year round, in Germany mainly in captivity, isolated feral pairs in parks
  • Nest: in tree cavities, near water
  • Food: beetles, worms, snails, spiders, acorns, beechnuts, grain, aquatic plants
  • Special feature: easy to identify due to the colorful plumage, have the largest eyes among waterfowl

Shovelers (Spatula clypeata)

Spatula querquedula

  • Size: 36 to 41 cm
  • Wingspan: 60 to 67 cm
  • Male: brown, light gray wings, flanks lightly marked, white wedge from head to nape, gray bill
  • Females: Grey-brown, gray beak, head striped brown and white, creamy white throat, white spot at base of beak
  • Occurrence: in Germany from March to September as a winter visitor, shallow waters, ditches, flooded meadows
  • Nest: well hidden, breeding area is defended
  • Food: Insects, worms, crabs, snails, aquatic plants, seeds
  • Special feature: are highly endangered, often travel in small groups, winters in Africa and India

Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)

  • Size: 44 to 52 cm
  • Wingspan: 74 to 82 cm
  • Male: Head shimmering dark green, yellow eyes, white breast, red legs, chestnut wings, back and tail feathers black
  • Females: brown beak, brown plumage, grayish-brown scale pattern
  • Occurrence: from April to September, on inland waterways, brackish water, swamp areas, ponds, meadow areas with ditches
  • Nest: near the shore, well hidden
  • Food: plankton, water fleas, tadpoles, insect larvae, spawn
  • Special feature: Overwinters in western Europe and tropical Africa
Note: The ducks are easily identified by their spoon-like beak, hence the name.

True ducks (anas)

Krickente (Anas crecca)

  • Size: 35 to 38 cm
  • Wingspan: 52 to 59 cm
  • Male: Chestnut head, sides green bordered yellow, light yellow rump spot bordered black, gray body with white horizontal line
  • Females: Brown, dark spotted or streaked, slender beak, orange at base, medium brown eye-stripe, white spot or stripe at base of tail
  • Occurrence: all year round, preferably in ponds near the forest, fresh and brackish water
  • Nest: near the shore, on the ground
  • Food: vegetable and animal, chattering in the mud in the riparian region

Pintail (Anas acuta)

  • Size: 52 to 62 cm
  • Wingspan: 88 to 97 cm
  • Male: small brown head, otherwise light gray, white breast and throat, white lateral head stripe, green index, gray bill with gray-blue margins
  • Females: brown-grey, gray bill, dark brown body
  • Occurrence: from September to May, shallow lakes, inland waters, moor areas, artificial fish ponds
  • Nest: in meadows, on the ground
  • Food: aquatic plants, leaves, buds, seeds, snails, insect larvae
  • Special feature: The drake gave its name to the long control feather. Wintering in Western Europe and Africa

Stockente (Anas platyrhynchos)

“wild duck”

  • Size: 50 to 65 cm
  • Wingspan: 81 to 98 cm
  • Male: Green head, narrow white collar, yellow bill, purplish-brown breast, gray rump, black and white rump, curled tail feather
  • Females: brown, variable markings, orange-red beak, dark base and ridge
  • Occurrence: all year round, still or slow-flowing waters, also in bays
  • Nest: on the ground, preferably near water, sometimes on trees
  • Diet: Plants, fruits, seeds, small aquatic animals, insects, foraging in water and on land
  • Special feature: According to the federal hunting law, hunting is permitted from September 1st to January 15th.


Schnatterente (Mareca strepera)

  • Size: 46 to 56 cm
  • Wingspan: 79 to 90 cm
  • Male: gray in color, mottled brown, black rump, dark gray bill, white body
  • Females: gray head, beige-brown patterned body, orange edges of bill
  • Occurrence: from March to October, wet areas, fresh and brackish water, shallow waters
  • Nest: Nests close together, often in colonies of gulls
  • Food: aquatic plants, seeds, grasses, roots, beetles, small fish, insects
  • Special feature: overwinters in Western Europe

Diving ducks (Aythyini)

In search of food, these ducks dive completely down to the bottom of the water. Their body and neck are stocky, and the large feet are set well back on the body. Taking off from the water is a bit more difficult for diving ducks, but they can fly well. Here, too, several genera are combined in this group of duck species:


Bergente (Aythya marila)

  • Size: 42 to 52 cm
  • Wingspan: 70 to 80 cm
  • Male: Black, gray back, white flanks, yellow eyes, gray bill with black nail
  • Females: brown, spots mottled gray on back, yellow eyes, gray bill, white ring at base of bill
  • Occurrence: from September to February, winter guest on the North and Baltic Seas
  • Food: snails, frogs, mussels, small crabs, insects, seeds
  • Special feature: it can be confused with a tufted duck, but the tuft is missing.

Moorente (Aythya nyroca)

  • Size: 39 to 42 cm
  • Wingspan: 60 to 68 cm
  • Male: Chestnut to mahogany, white belly, long gray bill with black nail, white iris, white undertail, darkly edged
  • Females: similar coloring to drakes, but lighter, dark eyes
  • Occurrence: May to July, shallow inland waters, swamps
  • Nest: in broad reed belts
  • Diet: Aquatic plants, roots, seeds, snails, small fish, insects, tadpoles
  • Special feature: wintering in the Mediterranean region

Reiherente (Aythya fuligula)

  • Size: 41 to 46 cm
  • Wingspan: 69 to 74 cm
  • Male: black plumage, sides white, distinct long tuft of feathers, drooping, heron-like
  • Females: dark brown, shorter crest of feathers
  • Occurrence: on inland waters
  • Nest: on the ground, in dense vegetation
  • Food: aquatic insects, larvae, mussels
  • Special feature: are very sociable, often found with other duck species or seagulls
Adult male tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) swimming in a pond at the Wood Lane Nature Reserve in Shropshire, England.

Table entrée (Aythya ferina)

  • Size: 43 to 49 cm
  • Wingspan: 68 to 75 cm
  • Male: fox red head, bright red eyes, black breast, light gray body with fine markings, black rump
  • Females: greyish brown, breast darker
  • Occurrence all year round, shallow lakes, in winter on larger bodies of water, reservoirs
  • Nest: near water, in riparian vegetation
  • Diet: Shellfish, plants, ringworm, crustaceans, small fish, insects


Kolbenente (Netta rufina)

  • Size: 54 to 57 cm
  • Span: 85 to 90 cm
  • Male: rusty orange head, lighter crown, coral beak, black breast and rump, white flanks, brown topography, white wedge on mantle surfaces, red eyes
  • Females: light sides of head, dark crown, brown iris, brown plumage, dark gray bill with pink tip
  • Occurrence: year-round, shallow inland lakes, brackish water lagoons
  • Nest: near water, in dense vegetation
  • Food: aquatic plants
Note: The red-crested pochard likes to lay its eggs in other people’s nests. These are then hatched by the other duckling.

Meertents (Mergini)

These duck species are diving ducks that are only native to seas outside of their breeding season. This group also includes some genera with their different species:

Eiderenten (Somateria)

Eiderente (Somateria mollissima)

  • Size: 60 to 70 cm
  • Wingspan: 95 to 105 cm
  • Male: Black and white plumage, green nape, breast tinged with pink, elongated nape feathers, brown eyes, bill blue-grey to green-grey
  • Females: dark brown to yellowish brown, dark banding, dark green beak, brown eyes
  • Occurrence: all year round, on the East and North Sea coasts, sometimes inland
  • Nest: in flat hollows in the ground, near water, lined with down, mostly brooding in colonies
  • Food: mussels, cockles, beach crabs
  • Special feature: largest sea duck in Germany
Tip: These ducks are easy to identify because of their almost wedge-shaped heads. In these duck species, the high base of the beak merges directly into the forehead.


Schellente (Bucephala clangula)

  • Size: 40 to 48 cm
  • Wingspan: 63 to 77 cm
  • Male: Black head, shiny green, white round rein patch, white body, black back and rump, gray bill, yellow iris
  • Females: brown head, grey-brown body, gray bill, yellow tip of bill, yellow iris
  • Occurrence: all year round, standing water, on coasts, brackish water, inland waters
  • Nest: in tree cavities or nest boxes
  • Diet: Mussels, insects, crustaceans, small fish, snails, aquatic plants
  • Special feature: When flying, a ringing noise sounds similar to small bells.


Eisente (Clangula hyemalis)

  • Size: 39 to 48 cm
  • Wingspan: 66 to 82 cm
  • Male: Gray back, light brown facial plane, black cheek patch, white crest, long spiked tail
  • Females: brown, white facial field, brown cheek patch, dark crest
  • Occurrence: in Germany as a winter guest, from October/November to the end of May, on the Baltic Sea, sometimes also on the North Sea
  • Food: crustaceans, snails, insects, mussels
  • Special feature: very talkative, seen in large groups at sea
Note: The long-tailed ducks can stay under water for up to two minutes and dive to depths of up to 50 meters when foraging.


Samtente (Melanitta fusca)

  • Size: 52 to 58 cm
  • Wingspan: 80 to 97 cm
  • Male: jet black, thick neck, white half-ring under eye, white wing bar, thickened orange upper beak with orange-pink nail, red feet, blue-grey iris
  • Females: brownish, white wing bar, white cheek patch, red feet, iris darker than drake
  • Occurrence: from October to April, winter guest on the Baltic Sea, in coastal shallow water zones
  • Food: small fish, snails, mussels, crustaceans, insects, aquatic plants
  • Special feature: dives for food even when the waves are high

Common scoter (Melanitta nigra)

  • Size: 44 to 55 cm
  • Wingspan: 70 to 90 cm
  • Males: black plumage, lighter wing tips, broad flat dark bill with yellow spot, hump present at bill base, long pointed tail, feet dark brown to black
  • Females: Dark brown, greyish-white neck and cheeks, tapering tail, gray beak, no hump, dark brown to black feet
  • Occurrence: September to April, wintering on the Baltic Sea and North Sea
  • Food: snails, mussels, crustaceans, annelids, insects
  • Special feature: are very sociable, often found in large groups

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