Bird of the Week



Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the ring-necked duck.

In the early days of ornithology when birds were being cataloged and named, observations were often made on dead birds collected and preserved for later study.

That is how this bird came to be named for a trait that is normally hidden on a live bird: the chestnut-colored neck ring on the male ring-necked duck.

Instead, to many it seems that this bird should be more appropriately named the ring-billed duck for the visible white band behind the black tip of its grayish bill. His bill is also outlined in white where it meets the head. Males are colored an iridescent black on the head, neck, breast and upper parts. Their white sides display a pattern resembling a whale. Both sexes have a peaked head. Females are brown with lighter patches on the cheeks and chin, a white eye ring and darker crown. They are difficult to distinguish from the similarly marked redhead and scaup.

These ducks dive for food, but are often found in shallower water than other diving ducks. Unlike many, they can fly directly off the water without needing long runs and so can inhabit smaller wetland areas. They feed primarily on the leaves, stems, seeds and tubers of submerged plants. During breeding season, they add aquatic invertebrates to their diet.

Ring-necked ducks breed primarily in the boreal forest regions of northern North America. In winter and in migration, they can form huge flocks of up to several thousand birds. As long as there is open water, they can be found in our area year-round.

On the day of last year’s Christmas Bird Count, these were the most numerous of the waterfowl species reported. Information for joining this year’s count on Dec. 18 may be found on our website.

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