With bold pied plumage and a long crest, the tufted duck is distinctive. These birds can be hard to identify properly in many areas, however, because of extensive hybridization with similar diving ducks. Birders who learn more details about this Eurasian duck will be able to recognize and identify it easily.
Common Name: Tufted Duck, Tufted Pochard
Scientific Name: Aythya fuligula
- Bill: Broad, spatulate, blue-gray with a prominent black tip and nail
- Size: 15-19 inches long with 30-35-inch wingspan, large head, shaggy drooping crest from the nape, steep forehead
- Colors: Black, white, blue-gray, yellow, rust-brown, gray
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males are glossy black allover except for contrasting, sharply-edged white flanks and white abdomen. The head and neck may show a faint purple or green iridescence in the brightest sunlight. Females are dark brown-gray overall with a bold rusty wash or blurred barring on the flanks, and the undertail coverts are whitish with gray streaking. Females have much shorter crests than males, and may show a very small white patch at the base of the bill, though this is not always noticeable. The back is generally darker than the underparts. On both genders, the eyes are bright yellow, and the legs and webbed feet are gray-black.
Juveniles are similar to adult females, but have a less distinct crest and grayish flanks.
Species is monotypic, though often shows plumage variations from hybrid crosses.
Foods: Aquatic plants, amphibians, crustaceans, seeds, mollusks, grain, aquatic insects (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These diving ducks prefer deeper bodies of water such as lakes, slow-moving rivers and both natural and artificial reservoirs. They may also be found in city parks where suitable ponds or lakes are present.
Tufted ducks prefer freshwater habitats, but are found more widely in coastal bays, estuaries or deeper brackish marshes in winter.
These ducks are found year-round in western Europe, including the United Kingdom. In summer, their breeding season extends to Iceland, Scandinavia and throughout Russia. In winter, they migrate to southern Europe and northern Africa including the Nile River valley. To the east, their winter range stretches from the Middle East through India to eastern China and Japan. They are particularly abundant along coastal Italy, the Caspian Sea and similar habitats.
While these ducks are not commonly seen in much of North America, limited numbers do reach western Alaska each year. Vagrant sightings may be recorded along both Pacific and Atlantic northern coastlines, especially in winter, and rare sightings are even noted in the Great Lakes region.
These ducks are generally quiet, but they do have growling calls, low croaking quacks and low whistles as part of their repertoire.
Tufted ducks are superb divers, going as deep as 50 feet below the water's surface as they forage. They can be quite gregarious after the breeding season, and gather in very large flocks that may be mixed with other diving ducks, particularly scaups and ring-necked ducks.
When startled, they will take off from the water quickly, running briefly along the surface to get enough speed for an explosive liftoff.
Tufted ducks are monogamous and engage in brief courtship displays that include head bobbing and synchronized bill dipping. The female builds a shallow scrape or low platform nest of grasses, lining it with down. The nest is usually positioned under a bush or dense grass for camouflage. The eggs are oval-shaped and range from light yellow to pale brown or greenish, and there are 7-12 eggs in each brood.
The female incubates the eggs for 25-29 days. After the precocial chicks hatch, they can leave the nest quickly and will begin diving to forage within 48 hours. Both parents guide and protect the ducklings, which will take their first flight at 50-55 days old.
Juvenile tufted ducks stay with their parents for up to 110 days as they mature.
These ducks regularly hybridize with similar species, including greater scaups, lesser scaups and ring-necked ducks. Less frequent hybridization has also been recorded with common pochards and mallards.
Attracting Tufted Ducks:
While these ducks are not a backyard species, they can be attracted to appropriate habitats that have a rich aquatic ecosystem for adequate feeding. Preserving that habitat is essential for attracting these ducks.
These ducks are widespread and numerous. In some areas their range is expanding because of sand and gravel quarries that create additional reservoirs that serve as ideal habitat. These ducks are susceptible to oil and other chemical pollution, however, and they can be dramatically impacted by avian influenza. In some countries, most notably Denmark, Italy and Iran, tufted ducks are managed as a game species for regulated hunting.
- Ring-Necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
- Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)
- Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
Photo – Tufted Duck – Male © James Petts