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Redhead

Aythya americana ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

With a gleaming cinnamon head setting off a body marked in black and business gray, adult male Redheads light up the open water of lakes and coastlines. These sociable ducks molt, migrate, and winter in sometimes-huge flocks, particularly along the Gulf Coast, where winter numbers can reach the thousands. Summers find them nesting in reedy ponds of the Great Plains and West. Female and young Redheads are uniform brown, with the same black-tipped, blue-gray bill as the male.

Keys to identification Help

Ducks
Ducks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Redheads are medium-sized diving ducks with a smoothly rounded head and a moderately large bill.

  • Color Pattern

    Male Redheads are a dapper mixture of cinnamon head, black breast and tail, and neat gray body. Females and immatures are a plain, mostly uniform brown. Redheads have black-tipped, gray bills, and in flight they show gray flight feathers.

  • Behavior

    In migration and winter, look for Redheads in large rafts, often with other species including Canvasbacks, scaup, wigeon, and American Coots. They usually dive for their food, although they use shallower water than other diving ducks and may feed by tipping up, like a dabbling duck.

  • Habitat

    Redheads breed mainly in seasonal wetlands such as the prairie pothole region of the Midwest. In migration and winter they group into large flocks on the Gulf Coast, as well as along the Great Lakes and in lakes, reservoirs, bays, and along coastlines across the southern U.S.

Range Map Help

Redhead Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Canvasbacks have gradually sloping bills that merge smoothly with the shape of the head, whereas Redheads have a more typical duck bill that juts out abruptly from the head. Canvasback bills are black rather than the Redhead’s gray bill with black tip. Male Canvasbacks have a bright white body instead of the male Redhead’s gray. Female and immature Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup usually show a white patch at the base of the bill, whereas female and young Redheads are more uniformly brown. Ring-necked Ducks have taller, more peaked heads compared to the Redhead’s rounded head; females and immature Ring-necked Ducks have white eyerings.

Regional Differences

Slightly larger than a Ring-necked Duck; slightly smaller than a Canvasback.

Find This Bird

In summer, your best bet for finding Redheads is to head to the pond-studded “prairie pothole” grasslands of the Great Plains. Much of the rest of the U.S. gets their chance to find them during migration and winter. Migrating Redheads stop over on medium to large reservoirs and lakes. In winter look for them often in shallow waters of the Gulf Coast as well as in the Great Lakes.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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