The redhead is a duck that is a winter visitor to Oklahoma.
However, they’re more common in the state during spring and fall migrations. During the winter, their greatest concentrations are found along coastal areas, especially the Gulf of Mexico.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that during winter, much of the redhead population forms huge flocks in two Gulf of Mexico bays: the Laguna Madre of Texas and Laguna Madre of Mexico. Flocks of up to 60,000 birds can occur, feeding on seagrass in the bays, according to the Cornell Lab.
I’ve been to the Laguna Madre in Texas many times, but never in the winter. I would like to see a flock of 60,000 ducks, so I’d better get going!
Redheads are medium in size, as far as ducks are concerned. They are smaller than mallards by maybe a fourth. And just a word of note, I often compare the sizes of many duck species to mallards, as mallards are so familiar to people. You almost can’t visit a municipal lake without seeing at least one.
Male redheads, like northern pintails, are dapper in appearance. They appear to have been painted and have cinnamon red heads, yellow eyes, bluish-gray bills with black tips, black chests and rear ends, and whitish backs and sides with very thin black zigzag lines, which give the appearance of being light gray in color.
Females are various shades of brown, but they are not dull in appearance, if you ask me. They have black eyes, and their bills are a darker gray than the males.
After the breeding season, males have a short-lived basic plumage (called eclipse) that resembles females, but with darker brown heads and yellowish eyes.
Redheads are similar in appearance to canvasback ducks, but there are notable differences. Canvasbacks have longer necks and, whereas redheads have steeply sloped foreheads, canvasbacks have more gently sloped foreheads that lead to long, black bills with very thin tips. And with males, canvasbacks are lighter on the backs and sides and have red eyes.
The redhead’s winter range covers much of the U.S. and Mexico. They breed in portions of the northern U.S. and up into Canada. There is a breeding population in Alaska as well. Redheads also have permanent populations that dot the United States, but to name all the locations would take up too much ink. Just know that there are no breeding populations in Oklahoma.
Now, as mentioned previously, the redhead is a winter visitor to Oklahoma. And while in the state, redheads inhabit lakes, large ponds, river pools and reservoirs.
The redhead is a diving duck, a pochard. But like last week’s featured bird – the northern pintail – the redhead will dabble as well. According to ornithologists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the method of feeding by redheads mostly depends on the level of water which they occupy.
Redheads eat mostly the leaves, stems and seeds of submerged aquatic vegetation. They feed by gleaning food from the surface of water by diving, tipping and dipping.
Odds & Ends
• Although many ducks lay eggs in the nests of others, redheads do it more than any other North American duck, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab reports that a breeding female will either lay her own clutch, parasitize other nests before laying her own clutch or parasitize other duck nests without producing a clutch of her own.
• Remember to check out my Randy’s Natural World YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/randyadventure.
Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at email@example.com.