Redhead Ducks are very widespread across North America, particularly in migration and winter, and they winter in large flocks along the Gulf Coast. Redheads are well known for parasitizing other duck nests, and some females do not even build a nest of their own, but instead lay all of their eggs in the nests of other ducks.
As a diving duck, Redheads are rarely seen on land, and they require a running start across the water to take flight. Pairs form during the winter, and they move north to the breeding grounds together. The record known lifespan for a wild Redhead is 21 years.
Female Redheads are a gray-brown with a variable reddish wash on the head. (sorry, no images of Lucille Ball or Ann Margaret). Fine eye ring and line behind the eye. Similar to female Ring-necked Duck.
Description of the Redhead
The Redhead is a large diving duck with a steeply sloping forehead and a bluish-gray bill with a black tip.
Males have a gray body, black breast, and reddish head and neck. Length: 19 in. Wingspan: 29 in.
Females have a brownish body, head, and neck.
Seasonal change in appearance
Males in nonbreeding plumage are similar but browner.
The immature Redhead is similar to the adult female.
Juveniles, eclipse males are all similar in appearance. Depending on the age, sex and molt stage there can be significant difference in the appearance but all can usually be identified, if by nothing else, than “what else could it be?”
Redheads inhabit lakes, marshes, and salt bays.
Redheads primarily eat roots, leaves, seeds, and other plant material, but will also eat insects and mollusks.
The Redhead dives in shallow water to forage.
Related: What do ducks symbolize?
Redheads occur throughout most of the U.S. and Canada, breeding in the northwestern portions of the U.S. north to Alaska, and wintering across a broad swath of the central and southern U.S., as well as the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic Coasts. The population fluctuates considerably, based largely on habitat conditions.
Redheads often lay eggs in the nests of Canvasbacks or other ducks, or in unincubated “dump” nests which have been known to contain as many as 87 eggs.
In winter, flocks of tens of thousands of Redheads may be found off the coast of Texas
Female Redheads give a nasal yelp, while males give a distinctive “meow.”
Pictures of Redheads
The bird below has the typical bill color and a stronger broken eye ring than other females on this page.
Long, pointed wings. Males distinctive, females generally plain looking with white belly and pale area at the base of the bill. Pale area at the base of the bill less striking than on female scaup.
Male Redheads are easy to identify at a distance, lone females would offer a greater challenge.
- The Canvasback has a more gently and evenly sloped forehead, a dark bill, and whiter upperparts.
The Redhead’s nest is bulky basket of dead vegetation lined with down, and placed in a marsh.
Number: Usually lay 9-15 eggs.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 23-29 days and leave the nest almost immediately, but cannot fly for about 4-6 weeks.