This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the redhead.
In early October, large numbers of redhead ducks started arriving on Pinon Lake. These birds stay so close together that a flock is referred to as a raft. Some redheads will stay here as long as there is open water in winter, but most will be found in flocks of thousands on the Gulf of Mexico during this season.
Redheads are diving ducks that feed on submerged aquatic plants and invertebrates. Groups will sometimes feed together on vegetation brought to the surface by a mixed flock of ducks. In shallow waters, they will also tip upside down to feed.
These ducks primarily breed in seasonal wetlands in the prairie pothole region of the Midwest. Commonly ducks will lay eggs in each other’s nests, but the redhead takes this behavior to extremes. Redhead eggs have been found in the nests of 10 different duck species and even in the nests of northern harriers. Some females never incubate their own eggs, leaving the job to someone else. Others incubate only some of the eggs that they lay.
The redhead is a medium-sized duck with a smooth, rounded head and large, gray-blue bill tipped with black. In breeding plumage, the male has a cinnamon-colored head, yellow eyes and a gray body, bookended by black breast and tail. Females and immatures are brown with a pale face.
Like many bird species, redheads are threatened by the disappearance of wetland breeding habitats. Ninety-eight percent of funds collected from purchases of Federal Duck Stamps is spent to increase these vital habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System. These $25 stamps are available at the post office, online and at retail outlets.
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