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Ring-necked Duck

Aythya collaris ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The male Ring-necked Duck is a sharply marked bird of gleaming black, gray, and white. Females are rich brown with a delicate face pattern. At distance, look for this species’ distinctive, peaked head to help you identify it. Even though this species dives for its food, you can find it in shallow wetlands such as beaver swamps, ponds, and bays. Of all the diving duck species, the Ring-necked Duck is most likely to drop into small ponds during migration.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
15.4–18.1 in
39–46 cm
Wingspan
24.4–24.8 in
62–63 cm
Weight
17.3–32.1 oz
490–910 g
Relative Size
Smaller than a Mallard or Redhead; about the same size as Lesser Scaup.
Other Names
  • Morillon á collier (French)
  • Pato de collar (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • This bird’s common name (and its scientific name "collaris," too) refer to the Ring-necked Duck's hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck. It’s not a good field mark to use for identifying the bird, but it jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.
  • During fall migration, Ring-necked Ducks can form immense flocks. Several hundred thousand congregate each fall on certain lakes in Minnesota to feed on wild rice.
  • Ring-necked Ducks on their breeding grounds occasionally get attacked by the much larger Common Loon, the Red-necked Grebe, and even the much smaller Pied-billed Grebe.
  • The oldest known Ring-necked Duck was 20 years 5 months old. It was banded in 1964 in Louisiana and was shot during hunting season in 1983, in Minnesota.

Habitat


Lake/Pond

Ring-necked Ducks breed in freshwater marshes and bogs across the boreal forest of northern North America. Although they’re diving ducks, they’re frequently seen in quite shallow waters (four feet deep or less), where patches of open water are fringed with aquatic or emergent vegetation such as sedges, lilies, and shrubs. They also use beaver ponds and other impoundments. On migration, Ring-necked Ducks stop to rest and feed on shallow lakes and impoundments with dense stands of cattails, bulrushes, and other emergent vegetation. They can form very large flocks on some lakes. During the winter, look for them in swamps, river floodplains, brackish portions of estuaries, shallow inland lakes, sloughs, marshes, reservoirs, and other managed freshwater impoundments.

Food


Plants

Ring-necked Ducks eat submerged plants and aquatic invertebrates. The plants they eat include leaves, stems, seeds, and tubers of pondweed, water lilies, wild celery, wild rice, millet, sedges, and arrowhead. They also eat mollusks (swallowing them whole and crushing the shells in their gizzard) as well as snails, caddisflies, dragonfly nymphs, midges, earthworms, and leeches. Protein-rich animal food is important during the breeding season, when adults are raising their young. Adult females eat almost entirely animal food during the time they’re feeding young. Plant foods become much more important in the diet during fall migration.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
6–14 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.9 in
1.9–2.4 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.4–1.7 cm
Incubation Period
25–29 days
Nestling Period
1–2 days
Condition at Hatching
Independent, with a fine coat of down; ducklings leave nest within 2 days of hatching.
Nest Description

Ring-necked Ducks don’t do much nest building until the female begins to lay eggs; at this time the nest is typically just a flimsy collection of bent-over plant stems. The female then makes a simple bowl out of sedges and other plants that she gathers from nearby the nest. She lines the nest with her own down feathers. The finished nest is up to 11 inches across, with a cup 2-4 inches deep. Nests are 1–10 inches above the water surface, and there’s usually a ramp built to help the incubating female get in and out of the nest.

Nest Placement

Ground

Ring-necked Ducks put their nests among dense sedges and other emergent plants in marshes. Pairs choose these sites by swimming at the vegetation edge or by making low circling flights over potential spots. They typically build their nests directly over the water or on floating vegetation; this helps protect the nests from land-based predators.

Behavior


Surface Dive

Ring-necked Ducks feed by diving underwater, rather than by tipping up as “dabbling” ducks do. When diving, they leap forward in an arc to plunge underwater, and they swim using only their feet for propulsion. They tend to remain in pairs during the breeding season but group into flocks of several to several thousand during migration and winter. Like many other ducks, the Ring-necked Duck uses many kinds of displays to ward off rivals and to seek mates; almost any group of ducks offers an opportunity to watch these displays at work. When warning away another bird, Ring-necked Ducks lower their bill to meet their chest or push against each other, breast to breast, while swimming. This can intensify to bites and blows with the wings, particularly during the breeding season. When courting, males often throw their head sharply backward, touching the back; swim rapidly while nodding the head; or act as if they are preening their wing. As pairs begin to form, the two birds may perform exaggerated neck stretches or dip their bills in the water as if drinking. Pairs tend to form in spring and stay together at least until incubation begins.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Duck populations can fluctuate markedly from year to year because of wetland conditions on the breeding grounds. In general, Ring-necked Duck numbers have been increasing since 1966, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They can be found throughout the year in the U.S., with part of their population breeding in Canada, and part wintering in Mexico and other areas of Central America, including the Caribbean. They are among the most likely of North American ducks to eat spent shot they find on the wetland bottoms where they feed. The 1991 ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting helped alleviate this, but old lead shot remains in wetlands where Ring-necked Ducks continue to find it. Ring-necked Ducks are sensitive to development or degradation of wetland habitat on their breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and migration routes. About 450,000 Ring-necked Ducks are taken each year by hunters, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which carefully manages duck populations to avoid overhunting.

Credits

Range Map Help

Ring-necked Duck Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Short-distance to medium-distance migrant. Ring-necked Ducks breed in northern North America and spend winters in southern and western North America, northern Central America, and the Caribbean, often on freshwater. Much of the population migrates from central Canada to the southeastern United States, staging along the way in Minnesota and other parts of the upper Midwest. Fall migration lasts from late September through early December; spring is early February through March.

Find This Bird

You can find Ring-necked Ducks in fairly small, shallow wetlands. They breed mainly across far northern North America, so check the range map and look for them during migration and in winter, when they can form large flocks. Don’t look for a ring around the neck—it’s really hard to see. Look instead for the bird’s peaked head shape, white ring around the bill, and white patch just in front of the gray flanks.