The Life of the Ring-necked Duck
This duck is quite often confused with the scaups, but not to fear. It is related, and though not gregarious, it tends to socialize with them. If you’ve seen a scaup, chances are quite good that the Ring-necked Ducks have also been along for the ride. Not only that, if this duck has located a favorite feeding spot, it returns time after time, bypassing seemingly similar ponds in the same vicinity. This is a diving duck that will feed in deeper water. When it dives and feeds under water, it keeps its wings tight against the body and propels itself with only its feet. They also swim lightly with the head up.
The name is misleading, for the narrow rusty band around the neck is hard to see, unless the light is very good and it is at close range. Much better field marks are the two white rings around the bill—one right at the tip of the bill and the other separating the bill from the head—are much more reliable. The rest of the bill is blue, just like the scaups.
The Ring-necked Duck is common with a widespread range. It winters on the southern coastal areas, but it prefers freshwater wooded lakes, swamps and ponds. This is why, many times, it will be found wintering in the interior of most of the southeastern states. Its breeding range is centered around the Canadian prairie provinces and the prairie states of the U.S. In lesser numbers, though, it will be found in every Canadian provinces and the entire United States.
Breeding and Nesting Habits
These ducks generally migrate in small, mixed flocks and pairing will be done on the breeding grounds. The female interests the male by whistling a soft call, to which he will raise his head in a kinked neck position and raise the feathers of his short crest. He, in turn, will answer with his whistle. He will bend his neck and head backward until his head rests on his back. Then he’ll snap it into a perpendicular motion, causing the bill to travel in an arc of 180 degrees.
The male stays with his mate until the nest is built and all eggs are laid. Incubation separates them, and he will seek out male friends to spend time with during this period. The female builds her nest in a marsh among vegetation that grows about a foot out of the water. She’ll use cattails or reeds for the nest, which is built up from the bottom of the pond until it is about eight inches above water level. Many times the eggs will be wet due to water seepage.
Eggs and the Young Ones
An average clutch is about 10-12 eggs, with an incubation period of approximately 25 days. The eggs can vary from buff to creamy green. Since they hatch over water, the ducklings are swimming in a matter of hours after hatching. They take full advantage of their habitat, which is also the home of numerous insects and their larvae, so they have a high protein menu, for they will eat anything that moves.
In six or seven weeks, the ducklings have fledged and are capable of flight. The adult male grows out of his eclipse plumage at about the same time that the young are learning to fly. This is when the female becomes flightless. By September, the entire family is once again aflight. The ring-necked is an excellent flier, and it must run across the water’s surface in order to become airborne.
The northward trek is begun in mid-March. It arrives on the breeding pond at about the time that the ice has melted. They are southbound again in September, and are on the wintering grounds in November.
The ratio is about 80 percent vegetable and 20 percent animal matter. They like snails, small frogs, crayfish, dragonflies, beetles, worms, mollusks, minnows, and crustaceans.
The crow is the most destructive predator, as they flock to the area in the spring to feed on the eggs. Raccoons will still destroy some of the nests, but most mammals are discouraged by the nest being over water. Otter and mink will feed on ducklings and any adults that they can capture. Eagles, owls, and hawks will catch both adult and young. Disease, accidents, and parasites lay their claim, too. Plows and other farming equipment in the prairie states and provinces will destroy natural habitat and nesting grounds, which can reduce their population.