Redhead Duck Seen in Saint John
A Redhead duck (Aythya americana) visited Rockwood Park, Saint John for about a week in late March/early April. It spent most of its time sharing a small pond with other local ducks; mallards, black ducks, american widgeon and many Ring-billed Gulls. It was finding food and safety there so spent several days resting and restoring its energy stores before moving on to points further north.
|Redhead and Mallard|
The Redhead is of the genus, Aythya, along with the Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup and Common Pochard. Most of these genera are North American except the Tufted Duck and the Common Pochard which are European. To share the same genus indicates that the ducks are closely related and therefore similar in appearance and behaviour (usually). For example, the Redhead looks much more like the Ring-necked Duck than the Mallard, which is an Anas genus. The keen eye can see the difference in shape between the Redhead and the Mallard in the photo above.
The Redhead is a beautiful duck with its deep rusty brown head and deep yellow eye. It is often seen alone here since it is a rare visitor and seen mainly during migration. I have seen large rafts of them on Lake Ontario where they gather before moving on in their migration. Most Redheads spend their summers on their breeding range on the prairies and in central Alaska. It appears there is a small population that breeds in southeastern Ontario and in south-central Labrador. Redheads winter in the southern US and Mexico.
The male Redhead has a deep rusty head and upper neck, yellow eye and a tricoloured bill (black, blue and white, see photo). Its back is gray; dark gray above and lighter gray on the sides. Both are vermiculated (showing wavy lines) and are beautiful to see up close. Its breast is black. The female is very different looking. She is brown overall with a paler face and a dark crown. Her bill is also tricoloured but with gray rather than blue.
"Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated List" says that nearly all modern records of the Redhead have occurred since the 1960s. The only confirmed record of breeding in NB is from 1944 from Middle Island, Sunbury County. This is unusual and almost all records are from spring and fall as the birds pass through to breeding grounds in Labrador.
Redheads feed by diving in shallow water. They feed on both plants and animals: seeds, rhizomes and tubers of pondweeds, wild celery, water lilies, grasses, molluscs, aquatic insects and small fish. They often associate with other Aythya ducks. The only other species that could be confused with the Redhead is the Canvasback which has the same colouring but is larger and shows a different head and bill profile. For distinguishing the female it is best to refer to reliable field guides, for example, "The Sibley Guide to Birds" 2014.