Ring-necked Duck

Aythaya collaris

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length           16-18 in 
  • AOU Band code    RNDU

The Ring-necked Duck (RNDU) is 16-18". The brownish ring on the neck is barely visible. A bold white ring around the bill is a distinguishing feature. In profile, the crown comes to a point. The male is like a scaup with a black back. A vertical white mark is seen in front of light gray sides. The female is gray-brown with a white eye-ring and faint white line behind the eye and a poorly defined light area on the face at base of bill.


It is one of the diving ducks which feeds on tubers, leaves and seeds of underwater vegetation, but also eats mollusks and insects. It builds a nest of grass and moss lined with down near the edge of the water. The female lays 6-14 olive-buff eggs which hatch in 25-29 days. It is fairly common and is seen on open lakes and marshes in the summer. In winter it is found on large lakes and coastal marshes. The range is variable, but generally breeds in northern U.S., including eastern Washington, Canada and Alaska. It winters on the western and eastern coasts and southern U.S. into Mexico. In the Puget Sound area they begin arriving in late summer and stay throughout fall and winter.
 

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Bufflehead

Bucephala albeola

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length           13-15 in
  • AOU Band code    BUFF

The Bufflehead is one of the smallest ducks, 13-15”.  The male is mostly white, with black back, puffy head, steep forehead, small bill.  Head has a large white patch from the eye around to the back of the head.  Large white wing patches show in flight.  The female is duller, with small, elongated white patch on each side of the head.  Bufflehead nest in woodlands near small lakes and ponds.  During migration and in winter, they are found also on sheltered bays, rivers and lakes.  The male is sometimes confused with a male Hooded Merganser which has a fan-shaped white patch behind the eye, but the Hooded Merganser has dark sides, a spikelike bill, and is larger.

The handsome, hardy, little Bufflehead is another species that is peculiar to North America.  It was originally called “buffalo-head” because of its disproportionately large head.  This little duck seems to be a vivacious bird as it plunges beneath the surface and bursts out in full flight, disappearing into the distance with a blur of whirring wings.

The ease which this species rises from the water is unusual in the diving duck group and is similar to the style of the surface feeders.

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Green-winged Teal

Anas crecca

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length           14 in
  • Wingspan      23 in
  • Weight:          12 oz
  • AOU Band code    GWTE

The Green-winged Teal (GWTE) is about 14” long with a wingspan of 23” and a weight of 12 oz. (350g). The genus name Anas (AY-nas) is Latin for duck. The species name crecca (CREK-ah) is a Latinized onomatopoetic word to express the quack or creak note of this duck.
This is our smallest dabbling duck. It is smaller and more compact than the other teals. They are active and agile and can be found in small flocks on shallow, marshy or muddy ponds. The GWTE feeds mainly by dabbling its bill at the surface of the water or mud.
Males have a gray body with a white vertical stripe on the side at the start of the wing The head is reddish-brown with a bright green patch behind the eye. The bill is small and black. There is a buffy yellow streak on the rump commonly known as a “buffy rump”. In eclipse plumage the male looks like the female. The female is mottled brown with a dark streak through the eyes. A green speculum in the wing is usually visible.
A subspecies of the GWTE is the Eurasian, or Common, Teal. The Eurasian male is similar but instead of a white vertical stripe it has a white horizontal stripe. GWTE flocks in flight seem very fast due to their small size, with rapid twisting and turning in unison.
In summer are found on freshwater ponds and lakes. In winter are also seen on rivers and in sheltered coastal marshes. They are a common local summer resident east of the Cascades and in winter on both sides of the Cascades in Washington State.
The GWTE diet is mostly plant material, especially on seeds and grasses, sedges and pondweeds. Pairs usually have already mated when they arrive at the breeding grounds. One courtship display consists of the male rearing up out of the water, arching its head forward and down to shake the bill very rapidly in the water while giving a sharp whistle.
The nest of grasses, weeds and down is put in a depression in the ground and concealed in grass or brush. The nest can be up to a mile from water. There are 6-11 pale olive-buff eggs, rarely as many as 15 or 18,. Incubation is 21-23 days and the young leave the nest a few hours after hatching. The female cares for the ducklings and may return to the nest for the first few nights. The young find all their own food and fledge at about 35 days.
After breeding the adults may go through their annual molt near the nesting area, or they may move hundreds of miles in late summer before going through the flightless stage of molt. (For those of you still wondering what “onomatopoetic” means; it is when the name imitates the sound, e.g., for birds, the Chickadee and Killdeer, or general words like “buzz”).

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

Common Merganser

Mergus merganser

By Hugh Jennings

  • Length           25 in
  • Wingspan      34 in
  • Weight:          3.4 lb (1530 g)
  • AOU Band code    COME

The Common Merganser (COME) is about 25” long with  34” wingspan and weighs 3.4 lb (1530 g). The genus name Mergus is Latin for diver. The species name merganser is from Latin mergere meaning to dip, plunge, and anser meaning goose. It is called Common because it may be seen more often than other members of its genus.


This bird has a long, slender, hook-tipped red bill. The male has a dark green head with a white breast and flank, and a dark back. The female is gray with a red-crested head that is sharply separated from a white neck and breast. For immature COMEs, the female is like the adult while the male looks like the female at first, but then gradually begins to develop the adult male plumage by first spring. The British call this bird the “Goosander”.


 It is a fish-eating duck that is common on freshwater lakes across the United States and is found year-round on the coasts of Canada. It is only inland in Canada during the nesting season.  It prefers freshwater, but can also be found on clear salt-water bodies. In Washington state this duck is a year-round resident. It is common at low elevations in winter and during breeding at low to medium elevations on shallow, clear rivers and lakes in forested country. It avoids dense marshes and muddy waters. The COME diet is a large variety of fish, but it will also eat mussels, shrimp and salamanders. Adult males can swallow fish more than a foot long. Young feed mostly on aquatic insects. This duck forages singly or in a flock by diving and swimming underwater, stroking with both feet in unison. Most food is found by sight by swimming along the surface, dipping its head underwater until prey is seen, then it diving in pursuit.


 Courtship displays of the male involve swimming very rapidly in circles near the female, then suddenly stretching it neck upward, pointing its bill straight up, and giving a soft call. Otherwise it is usually silent. Nesting is in a natural tree cavity or a large woodpecker hole, usually near water. They also nest in rock crevices, holes under tree roots and in undercut banks, or in nest boxes. Nest material is wood chips or weeds with a lining of down. There are usually 8-11 buff-colored eggs, sometimes 6-13. Females will often lay eggs in each other’s nests. Only the female incubates the eggs, usually for 30-35 days before the eggs hatch.

The young may stay in the nest for a day or more, then climb to the cavity entrance and jump to the ground. The female cares for the young for several weeks, but the young usually feed themselves and they may survive even if abandoned. The young are able to fly about 60-75 days after hatching. The COME migrates mainly in small groups from Canada to the United States. The adult males seem to winter farther north than the females and young. Migration is usually late in fall and early in spring.

Photo by Mick Thompson

Photo by Mick Thompson

White-winged Scoter

Melanitta fusca

By Andy McCormick

  • Length           21 in
  • Wingspan      34 in
  • Weight:          3.7 lb
  • AOU Band code    WWSC