The bright colors, color-patterns, and shapes of the male (drake) ducks make it fairly easy to identify the various species. But when it comes to the females, identification can be a little (or a lot) more challenging. The colors and patterns are more muted and subtle. It takes a discerning eye to distinguish identifying features.
Sometimes the males and females share similarities. Other times, they appear to be two different species. Below are several examples.
The Mallard, our most familiar duck, and can often be found in city parks. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much resemblance between the female and male. Yet, there are similarities such as the color pattern of the trailing edge of the wing (seen in flight). Also, look at the general shape of the bill and body.
Very few people will have the opportunity to observe the King Eider of the high Arctic. There are very few similar features between the male and female.
The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a duck of the northwestern United States. Location can help with identification but should not be solely relied upon.
The Canvasback drake is easily identified by its white back, red head and red eye.
Relying on color and color patterns alone can make it difficult to identify some species of ducks. By learning other identifying features, it becomes much easier to determine what species you are viewing.
So why are the female ducks typically a drab color? Look again at the image of the Eiders above. Note the color of the hen and the grass in the background. Imagine setting on a nest to hatch eggs. The coloration of the females helps them blend into the surrounding vegetation; like camouflage.
Enjoy the outdoors!