Thursday, March 19, 2009

At the pond... Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked DuckRing-necked Duck, Dawson Creek Park, Hillsboro, Oregon on 16 February 2009 by Greg Gillson.


The male Ring-necked Duck is highly distinctive with its black chest and back, and gray sides with a leading white bar. The male's head is blackish with a purplish iridescent sheen. The blue bill with white ring before the black tip is unique. In summer the male molts into a plumage like the female--rather dusky brown with a gray face, slightly pale at the base of the bill with a white eye ring. The tell-tale bill, though, is a give-away in any plumage, as is the highly peaked crown.

This fairly common duck is widespread across North America. It breeds in shallow ponds with emergent vegetation, generally in the mountains, across Canada to central Alaska, southward along the northern tier of states in the US, and then sparsely south in the Rocky Mountains to Colorado. A few isolated breeders may be found in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. They winter along the US West Coast and from middle latitudes of the US south through Mexico.

In the Pacific Northwest this bird breeds in shallow lakes in the Cascades, from the summit eastward. It also breeds in mountains in NE Oregon, northern Washington, northern and eastern Idaho, and northern California. It also nests in some lakes in the Great Basin. There are scattered irregular breeding records west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon. In winter, birds move out of the frozen Pacific NW mountains and Great Basin lakes. More northerly breeders move into the valleys west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon in October and leave in April, but are rare on salt water.

Similar species include Greater and Lesser Scaup, which have paler backs and pale blue bills with black tips. The rare (in our region) Tufted Duck has bright white sides.

These birds can be found in large ponds throughout most areas of the Pacific NW in fall and spring, often by the dozens. Therefore this duck is familiar to most bird watchers who visit local duck ponds.