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Golden eye diving duck

Ducks can be split into two broad groups: dabblers and divers. We have covered dabbling ducks in a separate blog – 21st February 2021 – A Day of Ducks – Dabblers .

Every winter, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters in Britain and Ireland attract thousands of diving ducks from their breeding grounds in the far north. Most of these tough eye-catching birds can be seen only in winter, even though small numbers breed in the British Isles. The only species that is widespread in Britain in summer is the tufted duck, but even this is far more common in winter. The months from October to March are by far the best times to look for diving ducks. Many form flocks on inland lakes and reservoirs as well as around coasts. They are easy to spot with the aid of binoculars and preferably a spotting cope.

As the name suggests, diving ducks feed mainly by diving underwater, using their strong feet (and sometimes their wings) to swim, mainly looking for food. Diving ducks are capable of relatively long, deep dives, and need little time at the surface to catch their breath.

Diving ducks’ diet reflect their choice of habitat, as well as the feeding adaptions of some species. The tufted duck, pochard and scaup eat molluscs, insects, and crustaceans, as well as plant material, although the proportions vary from species to species and according to availability. Some of the sea ducks, common scoter, long-tailed duck and goldeneye feed on marine molluscs and crustaceans.

Diving ducks are strong fliers; their broad, blunt-tipped wings require faster wingbeats than those of many ducks and they take off with some difficulty. Diving ducks do not walk as well on land as the dabbling ducks, their legs tend to be placed further back on their bodies to help propel them when underwater.

See below for identification of the more identifiable diving drakes.


  • Medium-sized, yellow-eyed duck
  • Small black ‘nail’ on ‘large’ blue-grey bill
  • Black, rounded head, no tuft
  • Black breast, pale grey back
  • White flanks, black tail end



  • Medium-sized, red-eyed duck
  • Striped, large black-and-grey bill
  • Red head, ski-slope forehead
  • Black breast, pale grey back
  • Pale grey flanks, black tail end



  • Small-sized, yellow-eyed duck
  • Small black bill
  • Blackish oddly shaped head with white spots
  • White breast, black, striped black and white wings
  • White flanks, black tail end


Long-tailed duck

  • Small-sized, dark-eyed duck
  • Small pink-and-black bill
  • White head with darker cheeks and neck
  • White-and-black breast, white-and-black back
  • Grey flanks, white tail end, very long tail


Tufted duck

  • Small-sized, yellow-eyed duck
  • Smeared black ‘nail’ on blue-grey bill
  • Black, rounded head, obvious tuft
  • Black breast, black back
  • White flanks, black tail end