“Can you tell me what kind of ducks were on my pond this morning? One was brown and the other one was darker but it had a big patch of white on its side. Both of them looked like they had white stripes on their beaks.”
We checked the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s waterbird identification guide and, while we weren’t able to precisely identify the ducks, we could narrow it down. Presumably, they were a male and female pair – the female is often drabber in color, so she was probably the brown duck.
They were not canvasbacks. While the female canvasback is brown and the male is black and rusty brown with a white body, they both have dark bills. The redhead is a possibility, but the colors don’t quite match up. Again, the female is brown and the male, like its name indicates, has a rusty red head and a black and grey body. Their bills are a lighter blue-grey, but they are black-tipped rather than white-striped. The lesser scaup also has a blue-grey black-tipped bill with a darker body and grey-white sides. The female is lighter in color but also has grey-white sides. Our patron’s birds could also be ring-necked ducks. Both the male and female ring-necked duck have white rings on their beaks. The female is brown with pale cheeks and the male is black with grey and white sides and a distinctive peaked head. All of these ducks are common across Ohio when they’re migrating.
If our patron happens to hear their ducks make sounds, they may be able to identify them that way. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, while the canvasback is usually quiet while it migrates, it can hoot and growl. The ring-necked duck also growls, hisses, and whistles. The redhead has a “low, nasal quack” and the male in spring makes “catlike” sounds. Finally, the scaup makes a sound that’s an onomatopoeia of its name.
EDIT: Sara from The Bridge, a Newton Falls newspaper, suggests that they may be mergansers, which are common across Ohio during their migration.