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What Is a Redhead Duck?

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  • Written By: Kim Masters Evans
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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The redhead duck, or Aythya americana, is a diving duck found throughout North America and parts of Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. It lives in ponds, bays, lakes, marshes, and other watery habitats. The species gets its name from the distinctive brick-red-colored head of the male redhead duck.

Ducks are part of the Anatidae family, along with geese, swans, and other water fowl. These birds tend to congregate in very large flocks on water bodies. They also often fly in small groups in v-shaped formations.

The redhead duck is a medium-sized duck with a stout, squat body. The top of its head is very round as well. An adult weighs just over 2 pounds (about 1 kg) and measures about 19 inches (48.3 cm) long when fully grown.

Male and female redhead ducks differ in appearance. For example, the male’s head is much redder than the female’s head. The male also has a grayish midsection and a gray-black or black chest and rump. He has bright yellow-orange eyes and a light blue bill with a black tip. The female is dully colored in brown and gray, with brown eyes and a dark grayish-blue bill tipped with black.

Redhead ducks mostly eat aquatic plants. They also eat insects and tiny mollusks and fish. They can dive underwater in search of food, but they also dabble, which means they snatch up food while they are floating atop the water surface.

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The northwest United States and southwest Canada are common breeding areas for North American redhead ducks. They typically breed in the summer and migrate to the south and east for the winter. Winter flocks can contain tens of thousands of the birds.

The redhead duck prefers to nest in marshy areas containing shallow water, and it builds nests using dead vegetation and down. Many duck species practice parasitic nesting behavior. This means the females lay at least some eggs in the nests of other ducks. Female redhead ducks are well-known for doing this. They may also “dump” eggs by laying them in untended nests. These eggs are essentially abandoned.

Male redhead ducks do not help their mates tend to the eggs or raise the young. The males leave the nesting area soon after the eggs are laid. Male and female juveniles are dully colored, much like the female adults. The mothers stay with the young until the juveniles can fly, approximately two to three months after hatching.

Most types of ducks undergo at least one complete molt annually, in which they shed and regrow all their feathers. The molting process can take several weeks. During this time, the ducks are unable to fly due to the temporary loss of their wing feathers.

Male redhead ducks undergo a complete molt soon after mating and after migrating to their winter territories. They lose their brightly colored feathers and take on the duller appearance of the females; they remain flightless for about two to four weeks. As breeding season approaches, they undergo a partial molt, in which they shed their dull body feathers and regrow brightly colored feathers.

Female redhead ducks undergo a complete molt soon before nesting, becoming even duller in color. This helps them blend in with vegetation and avoid predators during nesting. The females are flightless for several weeks while they tend to their eggs and newly hatched young. Then, they undergo a partial molt and regain their usual coloring.

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