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Dabblers vs. Divers

Ducks can be divided into Dabblers and Divers based on how they feed while in the water.

  • Dabblers – Dabbling ducks, like the Mallard, eat food that is at the surface or just below the surface of the water. They will lean forward with their rump in the air and eat anything they can find at the bottom of a pond, including snails and worms. They can take in a mouthful of mud and squeeze out the water to get the food. Dabblers are often spotted with their tail feathers above water and head beneath the water. Other examples of dabblers are the Black Duck, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shovelers.
Male and Female Mallards dabbling for food.

  • Divers – Diving ducks feed by diving beneath the surface of the water. They swim underwater using their feet or wings to propel themselves. Some examples of diving ducks are the Ring-necked, Bufflehead and Mergansers.
Bufflehead Duck diving into the water.


  • Dabble – to reach to the bottom of shallow water with the bill, in order to obtain food.

Fun Facts

  • The Mallard pair at Meigs Point has a wide range of movement from the salt marsh, to the dunes, across the road and the parking lot.
  • Mallards cross breed with a variety of other ducks, including the American Black Duck, Northern Pintail and various domesticated species. This can lead to variations in their coloring.
  • The wing span of a Mallard is about 3-4 feet. They are fast flyers, up to 60 mph, even though they have a stocky body.
  • Mallards originated in Siberia where duck remnants can be found in ancient food piles. The ducks can be found all over the world including Northern Europe, New Zealand and South America.
  • While Mallards feed in the water by dabbling, they also forage on land for seeds, grains, nuts and insects.


  • Mallard Ducks exhibit dimorphism, meaning that the males and females have a different physical appearance (e.g. coloration). Males have a shiny green head and a bright orange beak, while females are duller and mottled. Both have wing bars, but the male’s are a brighter blue, as shown below.
Mallards in Flight

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