Redhead Ducks Gleam In Rare Winter Sunshine

Seeing the Canvasback Ducks in a mixed flock with Redhead Ducks reminded me that last winter I had a chance to see a pair of Redheads quite closely. This winter, starting in December 2015, has been unusually mild. Lake Ontario was basically unfrozen at the end of 2015. But last spring, in March 2015, there was very little open water and the waterfowl were forced to hunt for food in whatever small open stretches they could find. One place that had not frozen was at Unwin Street in Toronto where warm waste water kept open a small area. When I visited to see an over-wintering Tundra Swan, it was jam- packed with Mallards, Trumpeter and Mute Swans, Common Goldeneye, and Mergansers. As the sun shone brightly from an icy sky, a few Redheads also were diving in hunting in the over-fished area.

Photo of Redhead Male West on NaturalCrooksDotCom

How Different Are Juvenile and Female Redheads?

Photo of Redhead Male and Female On NaturalCrooksDotCom

I have been trying to confirm that the “female” Redhead photos on this page are, in fact, of a female and not of an immature bird. I’m having trouble being certain, however, because my guides don’t provide much info. Based on the attentive behaviour of the male Redhead, however, I’m fairly confident this is a female bird, whether juvenile or adult! (Please add a comment if you have any insights into the issue.)

Photo of Redhead Female West on NaturalCrooksDotCom
I believe this is a female Redhead.

Where Do Most Redheads Spend the Winter?

No, that’s not a question about Scottish bathing beauties. I was curious where the majority of Redheads spend the winter months. I have seen rafts of hundreds of Scaup and Long-tailed Ducks, and others of dozens of Goldeneye and Bufflehead on Lake Ontario in the winter but I’ve never seen huge groups of Redheads.

Photo of Redhead Male Walk Ice on NaturalCrooksDotCom
This male Redhead is scrambling over floating ice to get back into open water.

According to the AllAboutBirds website, I just am not that observant! Apparently they do over-winter in large flocks on the Great Lakes. They also congregate in winter on the U.S. Gulf Coast and inland in the southern U.S.

Will Redheads Eat Zebra Mussels?

Photo of Redhead Female East on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Yes. So that gives them a chance of finding something to eat even during a harsh winter on Lake Ontario. They also eat a large variety of underwater plants including green algae. So these ducks were probably finding something they could eat even with the very crowded conditions near Unwin Bridge.

Photo of Redhead Male East on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I’ll have to keep an eye out this winter to see if I spot any really large flocks of Redhead. It will be nice, though, to even see a few of the brightly coloured males on a gloomy day.

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