Tufted Duck: Everything You Should Know About These Ducks

Tufted Duck: Everything You Should Know About These Ducks

Tufted Duck

The Tufted Duck is often referred to as the Tufted Pochard (Aythya fuligula). This small diving duck is a native of northern Eurasia. You’ll find them making their homes on slow rivers, shallow freshwater lakes, and park ponds. In the winter months, it’s not uncommon to spot these ducks along the coasts of the US and Canada.

The male Tufted Duck is well-known for its black-and-white plumage, blue-grey bill, and stylish feather tuft at the back of its head. Females, on the other hand, have a more understated brown color and a shorter tuft. These ducks are practically inseparable from the water, spending the majority of their lives in aquatic environments.

These ducks dive underwater in search of food, but they’ll also eat from the surface. Social by nature, Tufted Ducks form large flocks on open water during the winter season.

Where Is the Tufted Duck Found?

The Tufted Duck is native to northern Eurasia. It’s a migratory bird, spending its breeding season throughout temperate and northern Eurasia. You’ll find them in the milder regions of the south and west of Europe, southern Asia, and the British Isles during the winter.

In the past, the Tufted Duck was not a resident of North America. However, recent times have seen them as winter visitors along both coasts of the United States and Canada. This change is possibly due to two key factors. Firstly, the increased availability of open water that these ducks need to thrive. Secondly, the spread of freshwater mussels, which happen to be a favorite food source for the Tufted Duck.

So, whether you’re in Eurasia or North America, keep an eye out for these distinctive ducks.

How Does the Tufted Duck Look?

Male Tufted Ducks sport a glossy black coat with sharply-edged white flanks and a white belly. In bright light, their backs may appear more gray than black, and their heads and necks can show a faint purple or green glow. Their blue-grey bills and gold-yellow eyes are quite striking. But the most unique feature is their head tuft, which gives the species its name.

On the other hand, female Tufted Ducks have a more understated look with an overall brown color and paler flanks. They are often mistaken for other diving ducks.

Young ones and non-breeding males are uniformly brown, with a smaller plume or none at all. It’s easy to confuse them with similar species like scaups and Ring-necked Ducks.

Size-wise, the Tufted Duck measures around 15-20 inches in length, with a wingspan of 27-31 inches. In flight, they display a white stripe across the back of the wing.

Their vocalizations differ too. Female calls are a harsh, growling “karr,” mostly given in flight. The males are mostly silent but they whistle during courtship, emitting a simple “wit-oo”.

What Is the Diet of The Tufted Duck?

A Tufted Duck’s diet is diverse and balanced, making these ducks true omnivores. You’ll find them munching on a variety of plants and animals found in their native habitats.

Primarily, Tufted Ducks feast on molluscs. Snails and mussels are their top picks. In slow-moving rivers, canals, docks, reservoirs, and freshwater lakes, they’ll dive to catch zebra mussels.

They also relish aquatic insects. The tiny creatures found in the water are a crucial part of their diet. Crustaceans like crayfish and other small species are also on their menu.

Aquatic plants form a significant portion of their diet. They are known to consume roots, seeds, and buds of various water plants.

Their diet doesn’t stop there. Other small invertebrates, such as worms and small arthropods, are fair game. Tufted Ducks also eat parts of plants, including leaves, stems, and seeds. Even surface vegetation on water or land isn’t safe from these ducks.

Tufted Ducks are highly aquatic birds. They spend most of their life in water. Their feeding habits reflect this; they mainly feed by diving. At times, they upend from the surface to reach their food. Active during the day, they are also known to feed at night.

This diverse diet helps the Tufted Duck thrive in its environment. It’s a fascinating part of their behavior and a great point of interest for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

How Does the Tufted Duck Behave?

The Tufted Duck is known to form large flocks on open water, especially during winter. You’ll often hear their unique calls, with females sounding a harsh “karr”, and males whistling in courtship.

These ducks are migratory. Some populations move to the Baltic, and to western and central Europe.

Others head to central and eastern Europe, the Black Sea, east Mediterranean, and Caspian Seas. Breeding birds from Siberia and the east winter in the Caspian region, Pakistan, northern India, and southeast China to Japan.

How Do Tufted Ducks Mate?

Tufted Ducks mate from May through early August, peaking from mid-May to mid-July. These ducks are monogamous, forming bonds during spring migration that last until late June or early July.

Male Tufted Ducks have a unique “showing off” behavior. They swim in circles around a female, zipping past her, and stretching their necks out full length while raising their bills.

Once a pair is formed, the female gets to work building a nest. This is usually near water and hidden among dense vegetation. Using grasses and feathers, it takes her about a week to complete her cozy home.

The next step? Laying eggs. Tufted Ducks lay 8 to 10 olive-grey eggs, and the female incubates them alone for around 26-28 days. Once hatched, you’ll typically find 7-9 chicks in a Tufted Duck brood.

These ducks need waters rich in bottom mud for their young to have plenty of small larvae and emerging flies to feed on. But they’re adaptable. As their population has expanded, they’ve been seen using sub-optimal sites, even small waters.

Speaking of population, in 2004-05, the breeding population in Cheshire and Wirral was estimated to be 1,270 birds. That’s an average of 7 birds per tetrad with confirmed and probable breeding. Globally, there are an estimated 2,600,000-2,900,000 individuals of this species.

What Threats Does the Tufted Duck Face?

The Tufted Duck finds itself in a world rife with risks, most of which stem from human activity and habitat degradation. It’s a tale of survival against the odds.

Habitat loss is a major threat for the Tufted Duck. Wetlands, crucial for these ducks, are being destroyed for human needs like development, drainage, and expanding agriculture. When grazing and mowing in meadows decrease, scrub starts to take over, further harming their habitat.

Next, pollution and oil spills take a toll on these birds. These incidents can ruin their habitat and cut off their food sources. It’s a double whammy that leaves them vulnerable.

Changing land management practices also pose a danger. When peat is extracted or agriculture gets intensified, the natural balance of this duck’s habitat gets disrupted. This makes the habitat less apt for breeding and foraging.

Disturbance on inland water bodies and urban development also disrupt the Tufted Duck’s life. Noise pollution from towns and cities, along with disruption on inland water bodies, can interfere with their feeding and breeding patterns.

Last but not least, hunting and predation pose a risk. Despite regulations during breeding season, Tufted Ducks still fall prey to large birds, land predators, and even domestic dogs.

Even with these threats, the Tufted Duck’s population stays stable, with an estimated global count of 2,600,000 to 2,900,000 individuals.

What Conservation Efforts Are in Place for The Tufted Duck?

When it comes to the Tufted Duck, conservationists are leaving no stone unturned. They’re focusing on a range of measures, each designed to tackle different threats faced by these medium-sized diving ducks.

Firstly, attention is given to protecting key breeding sites. This involves safeguarding the ducks’ preferred habitat from degradation caused by oil pollution, drainage, peat-extraction, and changing land management practices. It’s about preserving those lowland regions, and eutrophic waters 3-5 meters deep, complete with open water, breeding islands, and abundant marginal and emergent vegetation.

Secondly, there’s the matter of habitat restoration. A notable UK study indicated the positive impact of fish removal from gravel pit lakes on the Tufted Ducks’ habitat use and brood survival. The results underscore the vital role that habitat restoration plays in conserving this species.

Thirdly, the strategy includes controlling agricultural runoff and managing invasive plants. Both steps are pivotal in maintaining a healthy and thriving habitat for Tufted Ducks. They help keep the waters clean and the vegetation abundant, thus ensuring optimum conditions for the ducks.

Lastly, but certainly not least, there’s the role of supporting waterfowl conservation groups. Groups like Ducks Unlimited are doing an outstanding job protecting waterfowl and their habitats, including those of the Tufted Ducks. Their work goes a long way in ensuring the continued survival of this species.

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