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Ring-necked Duck Life History


Lakes and PondsRing-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.Back to top


PlantsRing-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.Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundRing-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.

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:6-14 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.8-0.9 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.
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Surface DiveRing-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.Back to top


Low Concern

Duck populations can fluctuate markedly from year to year because of wetland conditions on the breeding grounds. Overall, Ring-necked Duck numbers increased by approximately 1.9 percent per year between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at approximately 2 million individuals and rates them 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Ring-necked Ducks 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, which can make them vulnerable to lead poisoning. 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 and eat it. Ring-necked Ducks are sensitive to development or degradation of wetland habitat on their breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and migration routes. About 375,000 to 435,000 Ring-necked Ducks were taken in 2019 and 2020, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which carefully manages duck populations to avoid overhunting.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Raftovich, R. V., K. K. Fleming, S. C. Chandler, and C. M. Cain (2021). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2019–20 and 2020-21 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Roy, Charlotte L., Christine M. Herwig, William L. Hohman and Robert T. Eberhardt. (2012). Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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