Genetic studies of waterfowl (Anatidae) have observed the full spectrum of mitochondrial (mt) DNA population divergence, from apparent panmixia to deep, reciprocally monophyletic lineages. Yet, these studies often found weak or no nuclear (nu) DNA structure, which was often attributed to male-biased gene flow, a common behaviour within this family. An alternative explanation for this ‘conflict’ is that the smaller effective population size and faster sorting rate of mtDNA relative to nuDNA lead to different signals of population structure. We tested these alternatives by sequencing 12 nuDNA introns for a Holarctic pair of waterfowl subspecies, the European goosander (Mergus merganser merganser) and the North American common merganser (M. m. americanus), which exhibit strong population structure in mtDNA. We inferred effective population sizes, gene flow and divergence times from published mtDNA sequences and simulated expected differentiation for nuDNA based on those histories. Between Europe and North America, nuDNA ФST was 3.4-fold lower than mtDNA ФST, a result consistent with differences in sorting rates. However, despite geographically structured and monophyletic mtDNA lineages within continents, nuDNA ФST values were generally zero and significantly lower than predicted. This between- and within-continent contrast held when comparing mtDNA and nuDNA among published studies of ducks. Thus, male-mediated gene flow is a better explanation than slower sorting rates for limited nuDNA differentiation within continents, which is also supported by nonmolecular data. This study illustrates the value of quantitatively testing discrepancies between mtDNA and nuDNA to reject the null hypothesis that conflict simply reflects different sorting rates.