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.