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Bird of the Week: Ring-Necked Duck

Okanogan Country | 04/22/2019 | Methow Valley, The Great Outdoors, Wildlife Viewing

"While the Ring-Necked Duck can be found fairly easily year-round in Okanogan County, I love watching them in the spring when they begin to congregate in large groups and pair up for mating season. I see them on just about every pond and lake. The trick is to be able to distinguish them from Scaups, which look very similar until you look for a couple of clear field marks. Ring-Necks have black backs while Scaups are white or light gray. And though Ring-Necks technically have a dark burgundy "ring" or "collar" at the base of their neck, it is faint and not always easy to see. The primary "ring" I look for in the Ring-Neck duck is the noticeable white ring around the end of the bill, just before the black tip. That's a clear giveaway every time!"

--Mary Kiesau | Local Naturalist and Photographer

According to the Seattle Audubon Society there are key differences and similarities between Ring-necked Ducks and Scaups. The male Ring-necked Duck in breeding plumage has a deep-black, iridescent head, breast, and rump, and light flanks. Unlike the scaups, the Male Ring-necked Duck has a black back. He also has a white spur at the shoulder, gray bill outlined with white and with a white ring near the black tip, and yellow eyes. The male in non-breeding plumage is browner on the flanks, but with a darker head, breast, and back. Its bill lacks the white outline, and has a black tip. The Female Ring-necked Duck looks similar to female Greater and Lesser Scaups. She is brown overall with lighter-gray cheeks. Like the scaups, she has a white crescent at the base of her bill, although it is less distinctive than that of either the Greater or Lesser Scaup. The Female Ring-necked Duck can be distinguished from the scaups by the thin, white eye-ring that trails back to her ear, and the peaked shape of her head, as well as by differing habitat. Juveniles look like females.

Ring-necked Ducks nest in small, wooded ponds in boreal forests and some prairie regions. In migration and during winter, they inhabit ponds, lakes, slow-moving rivers, and occasionally coastal estuaries, but generally do not inhabit saltwater bays. Shallow, freshwater marshes with dense stands of submergent and emergent vegetation are preferred in all seasons.

The Ring-necked Duck forages by diving, but is usually found in shallow water and forages and dabbles at the surface as well. This duck is strong and fast and, unlike many diving ducks, can take flight directly from the water without a running start.

More generalized than other diving ducks, the Ring-necked Duck eats mostly seeds, roots, and tubers. Aquatic invertebrates are also eaten, especially by breeding females and the young.


Pairs form during spring migration. Ring-necked Ducks nest on dry hummocks close to water or on mats of floating vegetation in the water. The nest is a shallow bowl of vegetation and down. Most of the nest construction (by the female alone) is complete when incubation begins. The female typically lays 8 to 10 eggs and incubates them for 25 to 29 days. The pair bond dissolves when the female begins to incubate. Twelve to 24 hours after the ducklings hatch, they head to the water where they feed themselves. The female tends the young, and may continue to brood them at night for some time. Unlike many divers, which bring their broods out into the open water, the female Ring-necked Duck hides her brood in the marsh. The young are capable of flight at 49 to 55 days. The female usually stays with the young until this point, but she may leave before the young have fledged.

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