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These are large, long-bodied ducks with thin, pointed wings. Their bills are straight and narrow, unlike the wide, flat bill of a “typical” duck. Females have shaggy crests on the backs of their heads. Adult males are crisply patterned with gleaming white bodies and dark, iridescent-green heads. The back is black and the bill red. Females and immatures are gray-bodied with a white chest and rusty-cinnamon heads. In flight, both sexes show large white patches on the upperwings (larger in adult males).
These ducks live mainly on freshwater rivers and lakes. They are rare in the ocean, but they sometimes use saltwater estuaries in winter. They nest in tree cavities in northern forests near rivers and lakes.