REDHEAD – (Aythya americana)
The Redhead is a diving duck of average size, measuring approximately 35 cm (14 in.) long, with a crimson red head and neck in the breeding male (drake), hence the species name. The breast and tail are black. The back and sides are finely striated light grey, the outer wing feathers are white with a grey edge, and the under parts are white, as well as the under side of the wings. The legs and feet are black, and the bill is light grey with a black tip. The tail is dark grey, and the eyes are yellow.
Females have the same brown grey plumage year-round, with white under parts, and their eyes are brown. Non-breeding males have a brown head instead of a red one. The ducklings have a brown head with generally brown upper parts and sides, with a yellow face, throat and cheeks.
This duck is a ‘pochard’, a type of diving duck with their legs placed toward the end of their body, allowing for good swimming but at the expense of good walking however. It is also very similar to the Common Pochard of Europe. The Latin genus name ‘Aythya’ comes from Greek and refers to a ‘kind of waterbird’.
The habitat of this duck is the wetlands of open country in the Prairies, with lots of emergent vegetation to provide adequate shelter and sources of food.
This species of diving duck has a mainly carnivorous diet during the breeding season : molluscs, snails, insects and crustaceans, and a mainly vegetarian diet in the winter (plant material). When feeding redheads associate with other duck species.
Redheads are brood parasites, meaning the females sometimes lay their eggs in the nest of other duck species. Their nests are built among dense vegetation on the water, or on a small island near water.
The redhead duck does not breed on PEI. Its occurrence on the island in the fall ranges from rare to uncommon, depending on the years. For the other seasons, sightings have been listed as accidental so far. The main breeding range is the Prairie Pothole Region and the Great Basin (USA). They spend the winter in most of the contiguous United States, and the northern half of Mexico.
Conservation: In spite of being legally hunted the population of the redhead duck appears stable overall, having increased in some areas while having decreased in others (Great Basin, Idaho). Habitat loss due to wetland drainage is now mitigated with conservation programs in some areas.