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Identifying Gadwall

Gadwall, adult male. January in Maricopa County, Arizona. Photo by Brian E. Small
Gadwall, adult male. January in Maricopa County, Arizona. Photo by Brian E. Small

One of the most widespread duck species in the northern hemisphere, found all across North America, Europe, and Asia, the Gadwall is also one of the least ornate. Even males in full breeding plumage have only subtle patterns. As a result, this duck may not command as much attention as more colorful species. Still, it has been recognized for a long time — its simple name has been in use at least since the 1660s, clearly applied first by everyday people, not by scientists. No one seems to know the origin of the word.

In North America, Gadwalls are most numerous in the West, breeding mainly on the northern Great Plains and in western lowland marshes. Smaller numbers nest north to southern Alaska and east to the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. In winter, they’re found across the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. The species can be expected at some seasons practically everywhere on this continent, except the far north.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media