The first time I saw Redhead Ducks, they were bobbing along with a raft of other ducks. Since I wasn’t expecting to see something new, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with them. Duh! It was their red heads! The sun was at the time of day just before dusk when everything has a soft glow. Believe me, these ducks were glowing! I’m sure the females were there someplace but I didn’t see them. They were clearly outshone by their brighter mates. An interesting thing about the male Redhead is his voice. He has an interesting cat-like meow and a deep purr. Unfortunately, the poor female’s voice is a squawk”¦
Redhead Ducks are 18-22″ long. The breeding male Redhead has a large, round, bright reddish-chestnut head and neck, a short blue bill with a black tip, and yellow-orange eyes. It has a gray body with a black breast, black rump and tail feathers. In eclipse the male is similar to the female but still has a reddish-brown head. His body is brown but is darker on the breast; his eyes are yellow. The female Redhead is a paler brown in color. She also has a rounded head with a bluish bill and a black tip. A light patch can be found at the base of her bill and her eyes are brown. Both sexes have broad gray wing stripes and like most diving ducks, their gray legs are far apart which makes it hard for them to walk on land. Immature Redheads are similar to the adult female.
Range and Habitat
The Redhead is a common breeding duck of the prairie marshes but is uncommon on the east coast. You will find it in summer on ponds and lakes and during the winter in tidewater areas. It is found in of most of North America and Mexico.
The Redhead is one of a group of diving ducks and often mixes with other diving ducks to form flocks of hundreds. They are usually nocturnal feeders and eat mostly aquatic plants, insects, mollusks, and fish. They are rapid flyers and have been known to fly as fast as 80 mph. They migrate in a V-formation.
Breeding and Nesting
Redheads breed in the summer in central Alaska, the Great Plains and throughout the west. They take new mates each year and start to pair off in the winter. The male courts the female by throwing his head back on his rump. The female stretches her neck and “nods” her approval in response by moving her bill rapidly up and down while calling back to the male. They form a down lined nest in tulles or reeds and lay 10-15 buff colored eggs. The male Redhead is a “love them and leave them” kind of guy. As soon as the female starts incubating the eggs, the male leaves her and heads south to molt. Following molt, the males are unable to fly for almost a month. The females nest close together in dense marshes and are known as “dump nesters”; they lay their eggs in nest of others of their own species. There is a 23-29 day incubation period and about a day after hatching the female leads the young away from the nest to the water where they are able to feed themselves. The young cannot fly until they are about 2 1/2 months old.