Shelduck: a mainly black and white duck with a conspicuous chestnut breast band; larger than a mallard but smaller than geese such as greylag and Canada. It has a particularly prominent red bill, black-green head, and chestnut and white upperparts. In flight, shelducks look heavy and have slow-beating wings. Having been away to the coast of Germany where they moult, they begin to return to Orkney in mid-winter with numbers building through till May. The majority of breeding birds have left by August.
Teal: breeding pairs are found throughout the islands with the highest numbers reported from Shapinsay with a peak count of 2,650. Teals are small dabbling ducks. Males have chestnut coloured heads with broad green eye-patches, a spotted chest, grey flanks and a black edged yellow tail. Females are mottled brown. Both show bright green wing patches in flight.
Mallard: widespread throughout the islands, the mallard is a large and heavy looking duck. It has a long body and a long and broad bill. The male has a dark green head, a yellow bill, is mainly purple-brown on the breast and grey on the body. The female is mainly brown with an orange bill.
Wigeon: only small numbers of this beautiful duck nest in Orkney, possibly as few as 50 pairs but it is our commonest duck species in winter with probably over 30,000 wintering in the islands. The males have red-brown heads and necks with a yellow forehead and large white shoulder patches in the wings. The females are much duller, as in all ducks, but are distinguished by a large pale area on their underparts.
Shoveler: the male is another spectacularly lovely duck but both sexes share one special feature – their large, spatulate bills which they sweep through soft mud and vegetation when they feed. Perhaps 150 pairs nest in Orkney making the islands one of the most important places in Britain for this species.
Pintail: this is perhaps the most graceful of our ducks, their long slender necks being almost swan-like. The drake is particularly lovely with a chocolate-brown head and neck with a delicate white stripe. Only about 30 pairs of pintails nest in the whole of Britain and Orkney holds about half of them.
Tufted duck: a medium-sized diving duck, smaller than a mallard. It is black on the head, neck, breast and back and white on the sides. It has a small crest and a yellow eye. In flight it shows an obvious white stripe across the back of the wing. This is a common breeding species in Orkney with wintering numbers building in September and declining again in March.
Eider duck: the UK's heaviest duck, and its fastest flying. It is a true sea duck, rarely found away from coasts where its dependence on coastal molluscs for food has brought it into conflict with mussel farmers elsewhere in Scotland. Eiders are highly gregarious and usually stay close inshore, riding the swell in a sandy bay or strung out in long lines out beyond the breaking waves. They are widespread in Orkney as a breeding species, particular on uninhabited islands and holms. They are known locally as ‘dunters’. After they have mated with their females, the males take no more part in the breeding cycle and gather in large flocks to moult.
Longtailed duck:The long-tailed duck is a small, neat sea duck that is mainly a winter visitor to Orkney. They have small round heads and steep foreheads. In winter, the male is mainly white with some brownish-black markings. He also has greatly elongated tails feathers - hence the name. Females are browner. In flights, they show all dark wings and white bellies. They are recorded throughout the year in Orkney but usually only 1 or 2 birds are present in mid-summer. The first returning birds arrive in September and October and the majority have left by the end of May. The Orkney name is ‘calloo’ which refers to the beautiful echoing call that they can be heard to make on calm days.
Goldeneye: a medium sized diving duck, found on both fresh and salt water, the largest numbers can be found on Harray and Stenness lochs and around Scapa Flow. Males look black and white with a greenish black head and a circular white patch in front of the yellow eye. Females are smaller, and are mottled grey with a chocolate brown head. In flight, the birds show a large area of white on the inner wing. Although small numbers of goldeneyes nest in Scotland, they are woodland ducks (breeding in holes in trees) and no such habitat exists here to encourage them to nest.