The last day of March 2015 was my first opportunity to focus my lens on this species of duck. Found a flock of a dozen or so on a small pond in Stevens County, WA. Of course a new bird for me means a bit of research into the bird, it’s life history, habitat, migratory patterns and such.
Seattle Audubon's Guide to the Birds of Washington State describes this bird as such, “Female and juvenile Redheads are brownish-gray overall, with gray legs, black eyes and a gray bill with a black tip. Males in breeding plumage have a gray body, black rump and breast, and a bright rufous head with a yellow eye and a light blue bill with a black tip. The male in non-breeding plumage (from July to September) is overall dark brown, but still has a dull reddish head. Redheads are a little smaller than the similar looking Canvasbacks, with a rounder head, a lighter back, and a more typically duck-shaped bill.”
Marshy freshwater lakes and ponds along with slow moving rivers appear to be the prime habitat for the Redhead Duck, which are prone to gathering in small flocks. Common amongst ducks they gather and mix with other duck species. Ever travel down the Columbia River in the winter and see large rafts of hundreds if not thousands of ducks? Redhead ducks are present in those gatherings.
While reading of this duck I was struck by what is referred to as “parasitic brooding” where they lay their eggs in other ducks nests. According to Seattle Audubon, “Most females parasitize in addition to raising their own brood, but some females may be entirely parasitic, not raising their own brood at all. Sometimes, dump nests occur that are untended and never incubated, but may have up to 87 eggs in them.”
These ducks fall into the “Diver” category in reference to how they feed, but they are often observed “Dabbling,” feeding on or just below the water’s surface on the aquatic plants, leaves, stems, seeds that forms their diet. Aquatic invertebrates are make up a portion of their summer browse.
During my research I discovered the Redhead is one of the most common ducks east of Northeastern Washington during it’s breeding season. And while many of these ducks spend the winter in eastern Washington, but they are much less common during the colder months than during the breeding season.
The conservation status of this duck according to Seattle Audubon: “Although still a common duck, the total population of Redheads is far below historic levels and they have experienced a sharper decline than most ducks in recent years. Loss of nesting habitat is their greatest threat. Distribution patterns of Redheads changed dramatically during the 20th century and they are now common in some areas where they used to be scarce.”