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Michigan dnr > wildlife viewing guide > waterfowl



Ducks come in many shapes and colors. Most Michigan ducks can be divided into two broad groups that are named for their eating habits.

Mallards are dabbler ducks.Dabblers (also called puddle ducks) have broad, flat bills that they use to feed on plants, seeds, and insects in water less than one foot deep. They are most often seen in shallow areas of ponds, lakes, or slow-moving water. They take off from the water with a sudden, upward leap into the air.

Bufflehead are diving ducks.

Most diving ducks have stout bodies, short necks and tails, and large paddle feet. They dive to feed on fish, shellfish, insects, and aquatic plants. They are most often seen in open-water areas of large, deep lakes and rivers. Most of them must run along the water’s surface to gain enough speed to become airborne.

Canada geeseGeese

Geese have heavier bodies and longer necks than ducks. Male and female geese look the same. Geese have strong legs that are well-suited for walking. They are grazers and spend a lot of time clipping grass and eating waste grain in farm fields far from the water.


Swans are the largest of all waterfowl, yet they are graceful in the air and on the water. Their bodies are all white, and males and females look alike. Their necks are longer than their bodies. Like dabbling ducks, most swans are found on ponds and lakes where they "tip up" to feed on underwater vegetation only as deep as they can reach. Notice the difference between the bill of the native trumpeter swan and that of the mute swan, an ornamental swan introduced from Europe.


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