The adult male has a blue bill, a red head and neck, a black breast, yellow eyes and a grey back. The adult female has a brown head and body and a darker bluish bill with a black tip.
Redheads nest on marshy freshwater lakes, ponds, slow moving rivers and other wetlands in prairie zones. During migration they gather on large lakes and they spend the winter on sheltered saltwater bays and estuaries and some inland lakes.
Following the breeding season, males go through a molt which leaves them flightless for almost a month. Before this happens, they leave their mates and move to large bodies of water, usually flying further north.
Redheads usually gather in small flocks, often mixed with other diving duck species. But in the winter they congregate in very large flocks, made up of tens of thousands of birds. Although they are considered divers, they often feed by dabbling. A notable behavior of the Redhead is their tendency to parasitize, or lay eggs in other duck’s nests. Many ducks will lay eggs in each others nests, but the Redhead takes this practice to another level. Female Redheads regularly parasitize each other, and at least ten other species of duck, and some non-duck species as well. 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 birds feed mainly by diving or dabbling. They mainly eat aquatic plants with some molluscs, aquatic insects and small fish.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 5,100,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 750,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]
The breeding habitat is marshes and prairie potholes in western North America. Loss of nesting habitat has led to sharply declining populations. Females regularly lay eggs in the nests of other Redheads or other ducks, especially Canvasbacks. Redheads usually take new mates each year, starting to pair in late winter.
They overwinter in the southern and north-eastern United States, the Great Lakes region, northern Mexico and the Caribbean.
This strong migrant is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.
- spanwidth min.: 83 cm
- spanwidth max.: 85 cm
- size min.: 37 cm
- size max.: 39 cm
- incubation min.: 23 days
- incubation max.: 29 days
- fledging min.: 0 days
- fledging max.: 0 days
- broods 1
- eggs min.: 4
- eggs max.: 9
- Conservation Status