Several species of dabbling duck are amongst the most commonly known waterfowl. Popular starter species include northern pintail, gadwall, common shoveler and European wigeon which all have distinctive male and female plumage, making it easy to be certain you have true pairs.
Dabbling ducks are happy with shallower and more restricted bodies of water than diving ducks. In the wild they are gregarious and happy to live in large mixed concentrations, this makes them particularly well suited to wildfowl collections.
Dabbling ducks search for their food sifting through surface water, up-ending in the shallow reaches and often dabbling in the mud. Their diet can be supplemented with wheat and layers pellets, breeders pellets are recommended in the breeding season. Grass must be plentiful for species such as wigeon. The availability of clean water is essential and it is a good idea to edge the pond with wood to avoid erosion of the edge by their persistent dabbling.
In migratory northern birds, pair bonds are short and seasonal but some southern dabbling ducks form stronger bonds. Generally, dabbling ducks nest on the ground.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
Northern pintail are an elegant addition to any wildfowl collection, are easy to keep and winter hardy. The male plumage is an attractive dove grey with brown head and white breast and stripe whilst the female is brown. Both male and female are large slender and long necked birds with a distinctive pointed tail.
Their characteristic long neck enables them to reach food below the surface that is out of reach to other dabbling ducks. It also allows them to peer over tall grass, a favoured element of their habitat.
Northern pintail are numerous and widely spread. Their habitat ranges from lakes and marshes in open areas through to grassland and rivers and coastal regions.
Pintail are easy to breed from in the right habitat. They tend to nest in tall grasses but also accept nest boxes when kept in a wildfowl collection. A typical clutch of 6-10 eggs takes 21-23 days to hatch.
RINGED TEAL (Callonetta leucophrys)
Ringed teal are an attractive addition to any wildfowl collection being both amiable and lively. However, ringed teal are not winter hardy and require protection from frosts.
Whilst the males have a bright and colourful plumage the female are attractive but more subtle. Both are relatively silent, the male emitting a soft whistle and the female a low quack.
In their natural environment their habitat is swamps and light tropical forest or marshy clearings.
In the wild, ringed teal nest in tree holes, therefore require nest boxes mounted above the ground to breed in captivity. They lay 4-10 eggs which they incubate for 23 days before hatching. In captivity ringed teal may re-nest leaving the drake to raise the first brood.
CHILOÉ WIGEON (Anas sibilatrix)
The Chiloé wigeon is a very popular bird in collections of wildfowl. In common with most southern hemisphere ducks, the plumage is very similar in both sexes and it is more colourful than that of most species which are found in such climes. The distribution is in South America from Southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, northern Argentina and central Chile to Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. The Chiloé is a fresh water bird, frequenting lakes and marshes, preferring open waters.
The display and voice of the Chiloé wigeon have their peculiarities. Both sexes lift the chin and call in the same way. The whistle of the male is often used as a call note and the birds are somewhat fussy but any skirmishes are really only abortive fights.
In captivity the species is particularly charming when kept in groups in that the frequent chattering and head bobbing are most appealing. All wigeon have a short stubby bill adapted for grazing and the Chiloé enjoys a grassy sward. It nests in undergrowth or in a box at ground level.
CAPE TEAL (Anas capensis)
The Cape teal is a relatively pale coloured teal but nevertheless very attractive. Much of the plumage is distinctly spotted and the markings on the bill are equally appealing in that it is light pink with narrow black margins and base and a blue tinge on the anterior portion.
Distribution is throughout South Africa except the easternmost part and the species moves about according to rainfall and seasonal conditions.
It frequents large and small sheets of water and marshes in open and Savannah country and it is often found around salt lakes.
Both vegetable and animal matter constitute the diet of this dabbling duck. It is not very vocal but during the breeding season the female emits a low quacking sound and the male has a rather husky whistle.
In captivity they are treasured because of their pretty shape, their light tone and their beautiful pink bill. Although not cavity nesters in the wild, the female is not averse to laying her eggs in a raised box erected in the enclosure. Mixed corn or wheat along with a compound pellet are suitable feeding stuffs and they breed readily in captivity.