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My Life’s Birds: #349

October 28, 2009

January 7, 1995 – Greene Co, Mo – The two red-headed diving ducks in North America seem alike in many ways.  Both are in the genus Aythya, along with the rest of the family that searches out invertebrates and plant matter by completely submerging themselves rather than tipping over in the shallow pools like typical dabblers prefer.  Both share a natty plumage pattern of brownish-red head and plain gray body.  Both are prized game birds by virtue of their handsome appearance and fast, wheeling flight. And both, oddly, were spotted for the first time by yours truly in the exact same innocuous residential pond in Springfield, Missouri, barely two months apart.

RedheadIn fact, the similarities between the Canvasback and the Redhead are downright eerie, and makes one wonder from an evolutionary perspective exactly why it happens that two species of duck with similar habitats, ranges, and behavior co-exist the way they do.  After all, at least on their wintering range, it’s not often you don’t find Redheads without finding Canvasbacks too.  As it happens, there is at least one significant behavioral difference between the two species.  The Redhead is a notorious nest-parasite.

Perhaps properly thought of as the cowbird of the duck family, the Redhead is known to parasitize several species of ducks, including its close relative the Canvasback.  But it hardly stops there, nearly every species of largish bird that nests in a marsh is fair game, including Bitterns and, even more bizarrely, Harriers.  You’d think the prospect of its future offspring sharing a small space with flesh-tearing beak and taloned nestmates would be enough to dissuade such brazen attempts of parasitism, but you’d apparently be wrong.  What the Redhead may lack in good judgement, it makes up for in sheer chutzpah.

But what else would you expect from a red-head?

photo from wikipedia

  1. Jerry r. Oldenettel permalink
    October 28, 2009 7:56 pm

    The Bonaparte’s Gull is misattributed. It is jerryoldenettel, not jerryoldnettel

  2. Nate permalink*
    October 28, 2009 8:06 pm

    @Jerry – Sorry, Jerry. I’ll be sure to fix it.

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