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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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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Keys to identification Help

Ducks
Ducks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A compact diving duck with a distinctive head shape—a sloping forehead and peaked rear crown. The crown flattens when they are diving. In flight, Ring-necked Ducks appear large-headed with a thin neck and a short, round body.

  • Color Pattern

    Males are bold black-and-gray ducks with a dark head, black back, and gray sides with a white hash mark on the chest. Females are rich brown with a contrastingly pale cheek, a white patch near the bill, and a whitish eyering. Adult males have a prominent white ring on the bill.

  • Behavior

    Ring-necked Ducks are often in small flocks and pairs, diving to feed on mollusks, invertebrates, and submerged aquatic vegetation. Sometimes they flock with scaup; other times you may see them with dabbling ducks.

  • Habitat

    Look for Ring-necked Ducks on smaller bodies of water than other diving ducks. In winter and on migration, this can include beaver ponds, small lakes, marshes, cattle ponds, or even flooded agricultural fields across North America. Ring-necked Ducks breed in freshwater marshes, bogs, and other shallow, often acidic wetlands.

Range Map Help

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

Field MarksHelp

  • Male

    Ring-necked Duck

    Male
    • Peaked, glossy-black head with purplish sheen
    • Boldly patterned bill
    • Black chest and back
    • Silvery gray sides
    • © DistantFocus, Cary, North Carolina, January 2011
  • Female

    Ring-necked Duck

    Female
    • Peaked crown
    • Mostly tan and gray throughout, dark on back
    • Pale white around and behind eye
    • Gray bill with white and black markings at tip
    • © smithbtr, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, February 2011
  • Female and male

    Ring-necked Duck

    Female and male
    • Female with dark crown contrasting with paler face
    • Female with white ring around eye
    • Male with glossy black head and breast, and boldly patterned bill
    • © Lois Manowitz, Tucson, Arizona, January 2010
  • Male

    Ring-necked Duck

    Male
    • Peaked head shape
    • Glossy black head, neck and chest
    • Bright white underparts
    • Bold pattern on bill
    • © DistantFocus, Cary, North Carolina, January 2011
  • Female

    Ring-necked Duck

    Female
    • Dark, peaked crown
    • Gray and brown overall
    • Gray bill with white and black markings at tip
    • Buffy white around eye and at base of bill
    • © Bill Thompson, Anchorage, Alaska, September 2010
  • Female and males

    Ring-necked Duck

    Female and males
    • Two-toned wings
    • Males with black heads and backs and patterned bills
    • Female mostly brown with pale circle around eye
    • © Laura Erickson, Ithaca, New York, February 2009
  • Male

    Ring-necked Duck

    Male
    • Peaked crown
    • Glossy black head with slight purple sheen
    • Boldly patterned bill
    • Black breast with silver/gray sides
    • © Dawn Vornholt, Tucson, Alaska, March 2010
  • Male

    Ring-necked Duck

    Male
    • Strongly peaked crown
    • Glossy black head and breast
    • Bold black and white pattern on bill
    • Black back with silver-gray flanks
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, San Francisco, California, March 2009
  • Female

    Ring-necked Duck

    Female
    • Peaked dark crown contrasts with paler brown face
    • Mostly tan overall, darker on back
    • White circle around eye and white patch at base of bill
    • Gray bill with black and white markings at tip
    • © Ernest Gaudreau, San Franscisco, California, January 2011

Similar Species

  • Male

    Lesser Scaup

    Male
    • Along with Greater Scaup, similar to male Ring-necked Duck
    • Back barred silver and gray instead of solid black
    • Solid, blue-gray bill with no pattern
    • © Carol Foil, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, January 2008
  • Male

    Greater Scaup

    Male
    • Along with Lesser Scaup, similar to male Ring-necked Duck
    • Rounded head with no peak
    • Back barred silver and gray instead of solid black
    • No obvious pattern on bill
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Palo Alto, California, December 2009
  • Female

    Redhead

    Female
    • Similar to adult female Ring-necked Duck
    • Head rounded with no noticeable peak
    • Bill mostly blue-gray with black tip
    • Pale, sandy brown back
    • © Greg Page, Houston, Texas, February 2010
  • Female

    Lesser Scaup

    Female
    • Head more rounded than Ring-necked Duck
    • Grayish on sides and back
    • Even brown head
    • © Stan Smith/CLO

Similar Species

Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup are similar in shape and color pattern to Ring-necked Ducks. When seen together, Ring-necked Ducks are noticeably smaller than Greater Scaup and slightly smaller than Lesser Scaup. Look for differences in head shape—Ring-necked Duck has a flatter crown, peaking in the rear, giving them a pointy-headed look. Lesser Scaup has a steeper forehead and flat-topped head. Head shape changes when these birds dive. Still, with practice it’s a very reliable characteristic—particularly useful for separating immature birds that have more muted face patterns and dull-colored bills. Male scaup are grayish on the back, whereas Ring-necked Ducks have jet-black backs. In general, female scaup have even-colored brown heads, whereas female Ring-necked Ducks show contrast between a dark crown and paler, grayish cheek. Female Redheads are paler, warm brown overall and often have a paler, buffy cheek. They are slightly larger than Ring-necked Ducks and have a smoothly rounded head. Female Redheads can have a pale area at the base of the bill and a faint eyering, but it’s not as bold or clearly defined as on female Ring-necked Ducks.

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.