Not all ducks dabble, of course. Mallard and teal dabble, upending in the water to feed on plant or animal matter just below the surface. Their bills are well adapted to filtering out tiny morsels of food from the water. The biggest bill is that of the shoveler, which looks ridiculously big on the bird, especially in flight, but is a brilliant tool for filtering up food as the duck pushes it along through the water.
Other ducks dive, the two most commonly seen being the tufted duck - the drake is black and white with a crest that always looks to me like a poorly Brylcreemed comb-back - and the pochard, with a russet red head, light grey back and black breast.
And then there’s the wigeon, the drake of which also has a reddish head and grey back, but the head is perhaps more chestnut in colour and with a pale gold crown. These are unusual in that they come out of the water to graze on grass.
All these species can be found in the UK all year round, but there are many more of them around in winter. Wigeon can sometimes be found in very large numbers, for example. In summer they are confined to Scotland and the north of England, but they will be found much more widely in winter, and there will always be at least a small group at Llyn Coed y Dinas, for example. Other ducks like pintail, goldeneye and gadwall will also turn up in the winter, though in smaller numbers, while the more goose-like shelduck, once confined to the coast, is now quite often seen well inland.
Sawbills are another kind of duck, with thinner bills with serrated edges (hence the name) that help them to grab fish. The two that breed in the UK are the red breasted merganser and the goosander. Goosanders were not found in these parts until quite recently, but now they are a familiar sight on the river, and I’ve seen one on the little lake at Powis Castle. They’re big: males have a dark green head and a red bill.
Not all ducks quack. It’s the (female) mallard that makes the sound most people associate with ducks. But here again is F.W. Harvey: “As for the duck, I think God must have smiled a bit / seeing those bright eyes blink on the day He fashioned it. / And he’s probably laughing still / at the sound that came out of its bill!”