Species, Age and Sex Identification of Ducks Using Wing Plumage


Wings of adult males have greater, middle, and many lesser coverts that are entirely white. Wings of adult females and immature birds of both sexes have only a few white greater coverts and no white middle or lesser coverts. Wings in the second group that are 165 mm. or longer are all from immature males and include about two-thirds of them. Wings 164 mm. or shorter include the adult females, immature females, and the remaining immature males. The easiest sequence to follow is to identify the adult females next. They have smoothly rounded greater coverts over both secondaries and tertials and their tertials often droop to rounded tips. The remaining wings are from immature birds and their greater coverts are usually frayed and somewhat pointed at their tips and their tertials appear straight with brownish fraying at their tips. Wings in this group that are 160 mm. or longer are from immature males and those that are 159 mm. or shorter are from immature females.

Wing Character Male Female
Adult Immature Immature Adult
Middle and lesser secondary covertsEntirely white over secondaries; cover dark bases of greater covertsDark brown; tips pointed and often raggedVery dark brown; tips pointed and often raggedEntirely black; tips rounded; generally lie smoothly in rows
Tend to lie rather haphazardly, often showing gray basal portion of feathers
Greater secondary covertsEntirely white; tips smoothVary among individual birds; usually many white spotted; tips usually frayedVary among individual birds from well spotted with white to entirely black; tips usually frayedVary among individual birds from black with or without few white spots to white with black band at tips; tips smooth
Notch-length93% > 165 mm.98% > 160 mm.97% < 160 mm.99% < 165 mm.
Marginal covertsBlack with white fringeDark brown to black
Greater tertial covertsBlack, rounded; usually smoothDark brown to black; pointed; often frayed at tipsBlack; rounded; usually smooth
TertialsSolid black and pointed

JPG-Adult male bufflehead JPG-Adult female bufflehead JPG-Immature male bufflehead JPG-Immature female bufflehead

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