6 Birds That Look Like Ducks

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: October 27, 2021
Image Credit iStock.com/Maria Jeffs
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The duck is one of the most common backyard birds in the world. You can find these diverse waterfowl on every continent except Antarctica and in a wide variety of habitats. That said, most live in wetlands or other aquatic areas including rivers, lakes, and near coasts. While swans and geese belong to the same family, Anatidae, ducks look different than their longer-necked cousins. Most ducks feature a long, squat body and a broadish bill, along with shorter, powerful wings and legs. You can often find ducks dabbling near the water’s surface or diving deep down in search of food. Ducks come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and varying shades of bright or dull-colored feathers. That said, how do you know for sure that the birds at your local pond are really ducks? After all, there exist several different species of birds that look like ducks. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 6 different birds that look like ducks. We’ll explore where you can find these birds, what they look like, and some of their most interesting characteristics. So, the next time you encounter one of these birds in the wild, you’ll be able to distinguish them from a duck. With that said, let’s get ready to delve into the world of birds that look like ducks. 

#6: Brant

Birds that look like ducks: Brant
The brant looks like a mix between a small goose and a duck.

iStock.com/Roman Overko

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The brant is a type of small goose and one of several geese and other birds that look like ducks. In total, there exist three different subspecies, which all live in arctic habitats in North America, Europe, and Asia. During the summer, they migrate south to warmer climates, although some live year-round in temperate coastal areas. Their diet consists of mostly aquatic plants such as eelgrass, algae, and sea lettuce. In addition, they also eat insects, mollusks, and worms. Generally smaller than other geese, most brants measure 22 to 26 inches long and weigh between 1.9 to 4.9 pounds. Brants feature white feathers under their tall, which is usually dark and much shorter than other goose tails. Meanwhile, their neck plumage typically appears black, with a thin, white-collar below the head. If you ever see one, just remember that brants possess slightly longer necks and wings than ducks. 

#5: Common Moorhen

Birds that look like ducks: Common Moorhen
Unlike a duck, the common moorhen does not have webbed feet.

iStock.com/Michel VIARD

Also known as the swamp chicken, the common moorhen is another one of the birds that look like ducks. A part of the rail family Rallidae, the common moorhen lives throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. They typically live in wetlands including marshes, lakes, and rivers, and prefer more temperate climates over tropical or colder climates. Common moorhens eat a diet of mostly aquatic vegetation, seeds, frogs, and other small animals. Highly territorial, common moorhens will chase other birds out of their breeding grounds, including ducks and other waterfowl. Devoted parents, common moorhen mothers and fathers may carry their young on their backs to escape pursuing predators. On average, they measure around 12 to 15 inches long. You can differentiate a common moorhen from a duck based on its distinctive red face shield. In addition, they also feature dark plumage, and unlike a duck, their feet do not have any webbing. 

#4: Double-crested Cormorant

The double-crested cormorant sports a much longer and more hooked beak than a duck.

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The double-crested cormorant is a member of the cormorant or shag family Phalacrocoracidae. They range throughout North America, with a widespread distribution from Alaska to Mexico and the Caribbean. On average, they measure 28 to 35 inches long and weigh from 2.6 to 5.5 pounds. Like diving ducks, they primarily hunt by diving under the water to catch fish along with small amphibians and insects. Among the birds that look like ducks, the double-crested cormorant possesses several unique features that make it distinct. For one, its plumage looks almost entirely black, and it sports two crests on its head. In addition, while the beaks of most ducks look flat and broad, the double-crested cormorant’s beak is hooked. Furthermore, unlike ducks, the feathers of double-crested cormorants do not repel water. Lastly, while most ducks build nests on land, double-crested cormorants build stick nests in trees. 

#3: Pied-billed Grebe

Birds that look like ducks: Pied-billed Grebe
The pied-billed grebe sports a short bill encircled by a distinctive black band.

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The pied-billed grebe is a member of the grebe family Podicipediformes. It goes by a host of other names including the devil dipper, hell-diver, and water witch. These names come from its ability to dive quickly underwater in search of food. They range throughout the Americas and particularly live in wetland environments such as ponds and lakes. A short, squat species, pied-billed grebes usually measure 12 to 15 inches long and weigh from 0.5 to 1.25 pounds. Their plumage appears dark, which helps them to blend in with their environment. Unlike ducks, the pied-billed grebe’s feet are not webbed. Rather, their feet contain lobes which they use to help them paddle through the water. In addition, the pied-billed grebe’s bill is short and shaped like a chicken’s, unlike a duck’s broad, flat bill. Its bill is crossed by a black band, which is where the term pied-billed originates. 

#2: American Coot

Birds that look like ducks: American Coot
The American coot stands on its folded-back toes when it walks on land.

CrystalMage/Shutterstock.com

Also known as the mud hen, the American coot is another member of the rail family Rallidae. The American coot ranges throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, which is where it gets its name. They generally live in wetland environments, including lakes, marshes, and coastlines. Their diet primarily consists of aquatic plants, although they also eat small mammals, amphibians, and mollusks when available. American coots typically measure 13 to 17 inches long and weigh from 0.9 to 1.8 pounds. In appearance, they sport a short white bill and face shield and dark gray plumage. Like other birds that look like ducks, the American coot often gets mistaken for a duck. However, you can tell them apart by their feet, because, unlike ducks, the American coot has lobed, non-webbed feet. In addition, when on land, they walk with their toes folded underneath their feet. 

#1: Common Loon

Birds that look like ducks: Common Loon
The common loon looks almost like a duck, but you can spot it based upon its long bill and neck and distinctive pattern.

iStock.com/BrianLasenby

Known as the great northern diver in Europe, the common loon is a member of the loon family Gaviidae. The common loon spends its summers living on lakes in Canada, Greenland, and the northern United States. Meanwhile, in the winter, it lives along the coasts of the United States, Mexico, and western Europe. Common loons eat a diet of fish, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and aquatic vegetation, which they catch by diving underwater. While it ranks among the birds that look like ducks, the common loon possesses a longer, thicker neck and longer bill than a duck. You can also identify it by its unique plumage, which contains an assortment of different colors and patterns. Depending on the season, it can have a checkerboard pattern on its shoulders, black or gray-brown upperparts, and a dark gray-brown or shiny bluish-purple head and neck.

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