Text Size: A  A  A

Redhead

Aythya americana

Redheads are excellent divers that feed on aquatic plants, mollusks, insects and small fish. (stonebird/Flickr)
Redheads are excellent divers that feed on aquatic plants, mollusks, insects and small fish. (stonebird/Flickr)

The redhead is a medium sized diving duck that visits the Chesapeake Bay during its winter migration to Texas and Mexico.

Appearance:

  • Medium sized diving duck with rounded head, bluish gray feet and pale blue bill, which has white band behind black tip
  • Males are slightly larger than females, averaging 2.4 pounds and 20 inches in length
  • Males have copper-colored head with orange-yellow eyes, gray back, black chest and tail, and white breast and belly
  • Females are less vibrant than males, with yellowish brown head, brown eyes, grayish brown body and tail, and white breast and belly
  • Coloring is less vibrant when birds molt in June. By November, darker winter feathers have grown in

Habitat:

  • Freshwater lakes, ponds and marshes and brackish coastal bays

Range:

  • Breeding range extends from southern Canada to the northern United States
  • In September, ducks migrate to Texas and Mexico, with many stopping in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Smaller populations spend winter months along the Atlantic coast from Rhode Island to Florida

Feeding:

  • Excellent divers who feed on aquatic plants, mollusks, insects and small fish

Predators:

  • Land mammals and birds eat their eggs
  • Some redheads build nests over water to deter skunks and other land mammals

Flight:

  • Wings beat rapidly
  • Migrate in V formations at high speeds

Voice:

  • Male courtship call resembles a catlike “meow” or “purr”
  • Female call a typical “quack”
Redhead courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • During courtship, females take lead by standing tall, jerking head up and down, and holding head erect. Males stand tall and twirl around, showing backside
  • Tend to form pairs in late winter
  • Breeding takes place from late April to early June
  • Nests are built in midsummer in marshes and prairie potholes, deeply hollowed and lined with down
  • Females lay clutch of seven to 10 eggs, with some females laying eggs in other ducks’ nests 
  • Males leave females once incubation begins
  • Mother leaves juveniles when they are able to fly
  • Lifespan is greatly affected by disease, including Duck Virus Enteritis, avian botulism and poisoning from lead pellets discarded from shotgun shells
  • Oldest known redhead lived 22 years after banding

Sources and Additional Information:

  • Redhead – University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
  • Redhead – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Redhead – Ducks Unlimited



Click tabs to swap between type and habitat.

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved