Redhead (bird)

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This article is about the duck species. For other uses, see Redhead (disambiguation).
Redhead duck (Aythya americana, male).jpg
Redhead duck (Aythya americana) female and offspring.jpg
female with young
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Aythyinae
Genus: Aythya
Species: A. americana
Binomial name
Aythya americana
(Eyton, 1838)

The redhead (Aythya americana) is a medium-sized diving duck, 37 cm (15 in) long with an 84 cm (33 in) wingspan. It belongs to the genus Aythya, along with 11 other described species that are found all over the world.

The redhead goes by many names, including the red-headed duck and the red-headed pochard.[2]  This waterfowl is easily distinguished from other ducks by the male’s copper coloured head and neck during breeding season.[3]  


The redhead is a pochard, a diving duck specially adapted to foraging underwater. [2]  Their legs are placed farther back on the body, which makes walking on land difficult, the webbing on their feet is larger than dabbling ducks and their bills are broader, to facilitate underwater foraging.[2]  In addition, pochards have a lobed hind toe.[2] No pochard has a metallic coloured speculum, something that is characteristic of ducks.[4]


During breeding season, adult males have a copper head and neck, with a black breast.[3]  The back and sides are grey, the belly is white and the rump and tail are a light black.[3] Male bills are pale blue with a black tip and a thin ring separating the two colours. Non breeding males lose the copper colour and instead have brown heads.[3]



Adult females, however, have a yellow to brown head and neck.[3]  The breast is brown, the belly is white and the rest of the body is a grey to brown.[3] The female bills are slate with a dark tip that is separated by a blue ring.[3] Females remain the same colour year round.[3] Both genders have bright yellow eyes.[2]


During breeding season, redheads are found across a wide range of North America, from as far north as Northern Canada to the lower United States.[2] Their preferred areas include the intermontane regions of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Dakotas with some small localities in Ontario, Quebec and southern United States.[2] These pochards then migrate south to winter in warmer climates.  These areas include any areas in the United States where breeding does not occur and extends to Mexico and Guatemala.[2][3] In either season, redheads use wetlands as their main habitat.[3]


Breeding habitat is characterized by small, semi-permanent wetlands in non-forested country where the water is deep enough to provide dense emergent vegetation.[5][2]  When wintering, redheads switch to large areas of water, usually wetlands, near the coast that are protected from wave action but can also be found in reservoirs, lakes, playa wetlands, freshwater river deltas, coastal marshes, estuaries and bays.[2][3][5]  


Redheads flock together on lakes and other bodies of water but will migrate in pairs, which are formed in December or January through elaborate courtship rituals.[2]  Unpaired redheads will migrate together in a ‘courting party’ that can be up to 25 individuals strong and hopefully find a mate within the group.[2] The pair bonds are established yearly through a long courtship process.[2] Males begin this process through neck-kinking and head throwing displays while emitting a cat-like call[2]  The male will continue by initiating a neck-stretching display while producing a cough like call, a display and vocalization in which the females reciprocates.[2]  If interested, the female will herself produce inciting calls towards the male while performing alternate lateral and chin lifting movements.[2] The male then swims ahead of her and turns the back of his head towards the female.[2]  Once courtship is finished, the two birds are paired for the year.  Eventually, the male initiates copulation by alternating bill dipping and preening dorsally towards the female, an action in which the female might return to the male.[4]   


Once copulation is completed, female redheads begin forming nests.  They are built with thick and strong plant material in emergent vegetation, such as hard stem bulrush, cattails and sedges, over standing water.[2][6]  Redheads to not defend their territory or home range and are actually very social while in their breeding ground.[4]  This is thought to occur because some younger, inexperienced redhead females parasitize other pochards.[4]  Some redheads lay their eggs in other pochards’ nests, including the Canvasback, Ring-necked duck and Greater and Lesser Scaups and this social parasitism by redheads reduces the hatching success of other pochards’ eggs, especially those of the Canvasback.[4]  In contrast, because of the parasitic relationship between the redhead and other pochards, redhead hybrids with the Ring-necked duck and the Greater and Lesser Scaups have been found.[4] 

Feeding habits[edit]

All pochards have similar diets that include both plant and animal materials.  Redheads undergo a niche switch when breeding and when wintering.  During the breeding season, redheads will eat as much animal matter as possible, including gastropods, mollusks and insect larvae.[2][3]  They will eat the occasional grass and other emergent vegetation.[3]  However, once they fly south, redheads will change their diet to include mostly plant material, including pondweeds, wild rice, wild celery, wigeon grass, bulrushes, muskgrass and shoal grass.[3][2]

Gastropods known as food of Aythya americana include:[7] Acteocina canaliculata, Acteon punctostriatus, Anachis avara, Anachis obesa, Caecum nitidum, Calliostoma sp., Cerithidea pliculosa, Cerithium lutosum, Crepidula convexa, Diastoma varium, Melanella sp., Mitrella lunata, Nassarius acutus, Nassarius vibex, Natica sp., Neritina virginea, Odostomia trifida, Olivella minuta, Olivella watermani, Polinices sp., Pyramidellidae, Pyrgocythara plicosa, Rissoina catesbyana, Sayella livida, Turbonilla sp., Turbonilla interrupta and Vitrinella sp.[7]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Aythya americana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Johnsgard, P.A. (1975). Waterfowl of North America. Waterfowl of North America: Indiana University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Johnson, W.P.; Lockwood, M. (2013). Texas Waterfowl. College Station (TX): Texas A & M University Press. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Johnsgard, P.A. (1965). Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior. Ithaca (NY): Comstock Pub. Associates. 
  5. ^ a b Yerkes, T. (2000). "Nest-Site Characteristics and Brood-Habitat Selection of Redheads: An Association between Wetland Characteristics and Success". Wetlands. 
  6. ^ Baldassarre, G.A.; Bolen, E.G.; Saunders, D.A. (1994). Waterfowl Ecology and Management. New York: J. Wiley. 
  7. ^ a b Michot T. C., Woodin M. C. & Nault A. J. (2008). "Food habits of redheads (Aythya americana) wintering in seagrass beds of coastal Louisiana and Texas, USA". Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 54 Suppl. 1): 239-250. PDF

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