A few New Mexico birds: Anseriformes


Anseriformes includes ducks, geese, and swans. Birds are presented in alphabetical order by family, genus, and species. Hover over a photo series to control the images.

Anatidae: Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

Although female wood ducks look drab next to the males, they do flash some color when their wings open. As one of my photos shows, they can even show a bit of green on their heads.


Anatidae: Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)


Green-Winged Teal (Anas carolinensis)

On the males the patch of bright green, sweeping back from the eye in an otherwise cinnamon-colored head, is distinctive. As my photos show, the eye patch can flash blue instead of green. Less obvious is the vertical white strip on the male's "shoulder." For the females, one ID clue is that the beaks are black. Another, easier clue is that they hang out with male green-winged teals.


Floating green-winged teals sometimes show a small part of the green on their wings. Like the males' eye patches, this green can instead flash blue or turquoise.


Anatidae: Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Identifying male mallards is painless, and identifying the females takes very little practice. Mallards breed with other ducks, however, leading to mixes that are difficult to impossible to identify. You'll see examples (my best guesses, really) below. The male offspring of a mallard and a Mexican duck is sufficiently common in the Albuquerque area that I'll discuss it  separately.



Mallard-Mexican Duck Hybrid (Anas platyrhynchos X diazi)

These images mostly feature paired males and females. Male mallard X Mexican duck hybrids resemble female mallards but have yellow beaks and darker-than-usual bodies. In each of my photos, the female of the pair appears to be a mallard. In one image (of the pair out of the water), a close look at the male's tail area shows a black patch (both above and below the tail feathers) and upward-curling feathers. These features mark it as a part-mallard hybrid. In the other images (of ducks in the water), the males' tail areas are more like a female mallard's, but the white edges to the tail suggest that they are also hybrids. To see a confirmed example of a Mexican duck in the Albuquerque area, visit my rare bird page.


Anatidae: Greater White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

Compared to Canada geese, with whom they can be found at times, greater white-fronted geese are a less common sight in the Albuquerque area.


Anatidae: Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

The snow geese that winter along the Rio Grande usually fly to the Socorro area, where they gather in the thousands. On occasion a line snow goose will hang out with other species of waterfowl in the Albuquerque area. In either area, the usual visitors are examples of the "white morph." We don't see the "blue morph" but my November 2023 photo, of a flock near Socorro, includes an example of the "intermediate morph." The thumbnail to the left will help you spot it. My January 2024 image of two snow geese flying past includes one white morph and one intermediate morph.


New Mexico plays winter home to a smaller but otherwise similar-looking bird, the Ross' goose (see below). One way to tell them apart is to notice the dark "grinning patch" on the beak of a snow goose.


Anatidae: Domestic Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides domesticus)

I'm including this barnyard goose because it might throw you at first. It's the domesticated form of the Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides cygnoides) native to eastern Asia. The smaller domesticated breed is referred to as Chinese Swan Geese, the larger breed as African Swan Geese, but both breeds apparently originated in China. Its all-white form is more obviously domesticated.


Anatidae: Ross' Goose (Anser rossii)

Ross' goose, Anser rossii, New Mexico




Ross' geese, which winter in much of New Mexico, look like undersized snow geese. One way to ID the Ross', aside from size, is the lack of a "grinning patch" (see the thumbnail to the left).


Anatidae: Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

The easy way to distinguish a lesser scaup from a ring-necked duck (below) is to notice the  the lack of a white stripe across the beak. Male lesser scaups also have a cloth-like pattern on their backs, while the females have patches of white next to their beaks.


Lesser scaups are common in much of New Mexico in the winter. Once in a great while, a greater scaup also shows up. To tell them apart, notice how on lesser scaups the nail (that dark thing at the front of the beak) is narrow. If the nail is much wider than you see here, you may be looking at a greater scaup.


Anatidae: Redhead (Aythya americana)


Anatidae: Ring-Necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

Don't look for obvious rings on these ducks' necks; when their necks are pulled in, the rings aren't visible. Even when the male's neck is extended, the most you'll get is a red sheen on an otherwise black neck. In one photo of a male you can see a tiny bit of the ring, indicated with an arrow. In another photo, where the male is extending its neck, the reddish sheen is obvious. 


Similarly, the female's ring is hidden most of the time but when she extends her neck, there can be a white ring.


Ring-necked ducks are common visitors in Albuquerque during the winter, but they disappear northwards in the spring.


Anatidae: Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)


Anatidae: Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

The Canada Geese seen along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque include a resident population and a much larger number of winter visitors. In late spring, flotillas of goslings appear, carefully shepherded by both Mom and Dad.  Since they're so common, and so obliging to photographers, I have lots of photos of them.


Anatidae: Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)

Cackling geese are so similar to Canada geese that for years they were considered a single species. For me it's easier to identify cackling geese if they're mixed with Canada geese, so I can make direct visual comparisons between the two. Here's what I look for:

  • Cackling geese are smaller than Canada geese.
  • Cackling geese have stubbier-looking beaks and more pronounced foreheads than Canada geese (but in part it depends on your angle of vision). Usually I first recognize "cacklers" because compared to Canada geese, they have "baby faces."
  • Cackling geese have shorter necks when those are extended (both species can tuck in their necks).
  • Cackling geese have a higher-pitched call than Canada geese; it reminds me of a teenaged boy whose voice is breaking. 

Even when both species are present and I go through that exercise, I wind up with some in the "could be either" column.


Branta, Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, New Mexico
The two geese at the lower left are cacklers. The two at the upper right are Canadians. Not sure about the fifth goose!


Cackling geese winter in New Mexico but then head up to the Artic to breed. If you see something that looks like a Canada goose in Albuquerque in the summer, a Canada goose it is.


Anatidae: Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

A male bufflehead has a large white patch extending from one eye around the back of the head to the other eye. It also has a lot of white on the body. From a distance the male looks black and white (as in the insert to the left). Closer up, and with the right light, the male's head is iridescent. The female has a white oval cheek patch with a horizontal long axis, on a body that is otherwise gray. Both males and females have wings that are dark when folded, and dark bills.


Anatidae: Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

So far, distant grainy shots of the males. The big round circle on the cheek is distinctive. Depending on the light, the green head may look black. The females' plumage looks completely different, but is just as striking.


Anatidae: Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

These mergansers raise and lower their "hoods" (crests), changing their appearance. The female's crest can look tan to slightly rufous, depending on the light. The females' eyes are brown. Nonbreeding males resemble the females but, I'm told, retain their yellow eyes. In the close-up, the beak serrations are obvious. Those are very handy for grasping fish and other slippery prey.


Anatidae: American Wigeon (Mareca americana)

Each fall, thousands of American wigeons appear at Albuquerque's ponds. Their whistling calls contrast with the mallard quacks and Canadian goose honks at the same ponds.


Anatidae: Gadwall (Mareca strepera)


Anatidae: Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

In the Old World, this species is known as a goosander. I resolved my early difficulties distinguishing female common and red-breasted mergansers by noticing the prominent white chin and neck patches on the common females. In the winter I often see several female common mergansers hanging out together, either on the Rio Grande or on local nature ponds.


Red-Breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

Outside of migration season, red-breasted mergansers are supposed to be unusual in New Mexico. In my experience, though, females of the species winter over in the Albuquerque area. One reason to include photos of this female is to allow comparisons with female common mergansers. When the birds aren't extending their necks, it can be hard to tell whether a white neck patch is present. However, you should always be able to tell whether or not there's a white chin patch. If not, it's a red-breasted.


 Anatidae: Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

On breeding male ruddy ducks, the bill turns blue. Both males and females/immatures have a dark "cap" that extends down to slightly below the eyes.


Anatidae: Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)


Northern shovelers of either sex stand out for their seemingly too-large beaks. The breeding males also have bold plumage. My photos of non-breeding male shows how they resemble the females, except for having a male's black beak.


The closeup to the left shows the fine fringe at the side of the beak, which allows northern shovelers to strain food out of the water—not unlike the way whales filter-feed on krill. Northern shovelers are dabblers, meaning they don't dive for their food. At times, however, two or more northern shovelers will swim in a tight circle, forming a vortex that sucks detritus up off the bottom of a pond. They then use their specialized beaks to filter out food.


Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera)

In my April 2021 image of a female, she's flashing the cloudy blue part of her wing.


Blue-Winged Teal (Spatula discors)

The blue on this teal's wings is a baby blue, as you can see from a slightly blurry photo of a male alighting on the water. There's also some green, which depending on the light may look black.