Introduction | Swans | Wild Geese | Shelducks | Whistling Ducks | Perching Ducks | Diving Ducks | Dabbling Ducks


Wildfowl are frequently referred to as ornamental ducks, geese and swans. In the wild, these birds populate the world, apart from Antarctica. Some individual species such as the Mallard are very widely distributed, others such as Laysan Duck occupy very small areas. There are no true geese in the southern hemisphere.

There are numerous collections of wildfowl throughout the UK which are owned by individuals, municipal bodies and other organisations. Many species which are maintained in captivity in the British Isles are indigenous to warmer countries but are quite hardy. Under suitable management the birds thrive, breed regularly and have a life expectancy greater than in the wild. A knowledge of the role played by wildfowl species in their natural wetland habitats is essential to understanding their needs in captivity.

A small pond and enclosure is suitable for a few birds but where a larger pond or lake is available, there is greater scope for the establishment of a much wider variety of species. The birds must be enclosed and protected from predators and there are several methods of ensuring their safety. Please note that in the UK it is an offence to allow non-indigenous species to escape into the wild. Wheat and a compound pellet are appropriate food for most species. Where the pond and the area of the enclosure together with the wildfowl are reasonably balanced, it is perfectly feasible to plant successfully to create a feature which is attractive to the eye and enhances the beauty of the residents.

The leaflets section contains a wealth of information on the requirements for keeping waterfowl, and the BWA Bookshop stocks specialist books.

Mute swan
Mute Swan Cygnus olor

Scientific Classification

There are 147 species of wildfowl, all members of the avian family Anatidae. These are in turn divided in to the following sub-families:

  • Anatinae (Dabbling and Perching Ducks)
  • Anserinae (Swans and Geese)
  • Aythyinae (Diving Ducks)
  • Dendrocygninae (Whistling Ducks)
  • Merginae (Eiders, Scoters, Sawbills and other Sea Ducks)
  • Oxyurinae (Stiff-tailed Ducks)
  • Plectropterinae (Spur-winged Geese)
  • Stictonettinae (Freckled Ducks)
  • Tadorninae (Shelducks and Sheldgeese)
  • Thalassorninae (White-backed Ducks)

The following is a list of wildfowl most frequently kept by enthusiasts, which are described in detail in the other parts of this section.

Swans Wild Geese Shelducks Whistling Ducks Perching Ducks Diving Ducks Dabbling Ducks
Black Swans

Black-necked Swans
Barnacle Goose

Red-breasted Goose

Bar-headed Goose
European Shelduck

Ruddy Shelduck
Fulvous Whistling Duck

White-faced Whistling Duck

European Eider

Tufted Duck
Northern Pintail

Ringed Teal

Chiloé Wigeon

Cape Teal