What's the difference between divers and dabblers?

What's the difference between divers and dabblers?

Shovelers by Nick Upton/2020VISION/naturepl.com

Winter is a great time to learn about water birds. Find out more about two types of duck, the divers and the dabblers.

The number of birds you see on rivers, lakes and reservoirs increases during the winter as many birds come to the UK to escape colder weather on the continent.

They are all able to live in the same area because they feed in different ways. 

Males are often brightly coloured. Females can be harder to identify as they tend to be mostly brown, but look for a male nearby to help with identification.

There are two main types of ducks, dabblers and divers.


Dabblers feed near the water's surface or tip up and stick their tails in the air to feed just under the surface. Their legs are in the middle of their body, which means they can easily walk around on land. Here are four of the most common dabblers that you'll see.


Mallard by Lakes4life

Mallards are the duck that everyone knows. Remember to feed them seeds, peas or lettuce rather than bread!


Teal by Margaret Holland

Teal are small ducks that feed on seeds and plants in shallow water.


Shovelers by Nick Upton/2020VISION/naturepl.com

Shovelers often swim in circles as they use their large bills to filter out tiny animals and plants from the water.


Wigeon by David Tipling/2020VISION

Wigeons make a distinctive whistling sound. Listen out for it if you see large, mixed flocks of ducks.


Divers tend to live on deeper water, diving down under the water to find food. Their legs are further back on their bodies, to help them dive down deep. Here are three of the most common divers that you'll see.

Tufted ducks

Tufted ducks by Margaret Holland

Tufted ducks often live in large flocks.


Male pochard by Tom Marshall

Male pochards have a distinctive chestnut head.


Goosanders by Margaret Holland

Goosanders catch small fish using their serrated bills. The males have a green head, the females a brown head.

Great reserves to see wetland birds 


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