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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:

The redhead is a 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:

Live in 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:

Redheads are excellent divers who feed on aquatic plants, mollusks, insects and small fish.

Predators:

Land mammals and birds eat the eggs of redheads. Some redheads build nests over water to deter skunks and other land mammals.

Flight:

Redheads' wings beat rapidly. The birds migrate in V formations at high speeds.

Voice:

The male courtship call resembles a catlike “meow” or “purr," while the female's call is a typical “quack.”

Redhead courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

During courtship, females take the lead by standing tall, jerking their heads up and down, and holding their heads erect. Males stand tall and twirl around, showing their backsides. Pairs tend to form in late winter, while 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 a clutch of seven to 10 eggs, with some females laying eggs in other ducks’ nests. Males leave females once incubation begins. The mother will leave juveniles when they are able to fly. The redhead's lifespan is greatly affected by disease, including Duck Virus Enteritis, avian botulism and poisoning from lead pellets discarded from shotgun shells; the oldest known redhead lived 22 years after banding.

Other Facts:

  • Of the diving ducks, redheads are the most common breeders in the United States.
  • Right before her eggs hatch, a female redhead sounds a low kuk-kuk-kuk, which imprints on the ducklings to follow her when they are hatched.

Sources and Additional Information:




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