By Russ Chappell
Male Ring-necked Ducks are gleaming black, gray, and white, while females are brown with a delicate face pattern. At a distance, look for this species’ distinctive, peaked head to help identify it… don’t look for a ring around the neck—it’s really hard to see! These ducks closely resemble and are often confused with Lesser Scaups.
Ring-necked Ducks are divers and, while feeding, thrust forward in an arc and plunge underwater. Using their feet for propulsion, they feed on submerged plants, aquatic invertebrates, leaves, stems, seeds, and tubers of pondweed, water lilies, wild celery, wild rice, millet, sedges, and arrowhead. Protein-rich animal food is important during the breeding season, and adult females primarily consume animal food while raising their young. Plant foods become much more important during fall migration.
These ducks breed across far northern North America in freshwater marshes, bogs and boreal forests. While a diving duck, they frequent shallow waters, where open water is fringed with aquatic or emergent vegetation such as sedges, lilies, and shrubs.
Nests are a collection of plant stems and leaves shaped into a bowl and lined with the mother’s down feathers.
The nest is about eleven inches across, two to four inches deep, and placed above the water surface, with a ramp to provide the incubating female easier access. There is one brood per year of six to fifteen eggs that incubate in twenty-five to thirty days, and chicks leave the nest within a day or two.
During migration they often form large flocks on lakes as they stop to rest and feed on dense stands of cattails, bulrushes, and other emergent vegetation.
Populations fluctuate from year to year, because of wetland conditions in the breeding grounds. Overall, Ring-necked Duck numbers increased between 1966 and 2014, and these ducks are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.
Hunters take about 450,000 Ring-necked Ducks yearly according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages duck populations.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
IMAGES FROM TOP: Photo of a Female Ringed-necked Duck and Male
Ringed-necked Duck Courtesy of Prescott Audubon Society