Redhead numbers on the rise at area locations

9:04 am | March 11, 2013

On the first day of March, I took a quick lunch-hour trip to Wilbur Lake to observe the largest flock of Redheads I have ever seen in one location.

I knew about the large flock thanks to an email posting by Brookie and Jean Potter, who reside near the small reservoir. Over the years, Wilbur Lake has been a magnet for wintering and migrating waterfowl, including such species as Red-breasted Merganser, White-winged Scoter, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail and Wood Duck. Each winter, a few hundred Buffleheads spend this cold season on Wilbur Lake. The Buffleheads are sometimes joined by Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwalls and other ducks.

In fact, I saw my very first Redheads on this small lake back in the early 1990s. I’ve always considered Redhead flocks consisting of 20 or 40 individuals to be modestly large flocks. Scanning the lake with binoculars and counting at least 147 Redheads was a thrilling observation. Added to the count was a flock of Lesser Scaup as well as a few dozen Buffleheads.

Redheads began gathering this year on Wilbur Lake in mid-February. Their numbers increased steadily, resulting in the amazing flock found by the Potters. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is a new record for this species on Wilbur Lake.

The Redhead belongs to the genus of ducks known as Aythya, which encompasses a total of 12 species. The other members of the family that range in North America include Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Tufted Duck and Canvasback.

The species profile for Redhead at the Ducks Unlimited website provide some interesting facts about this duck.

• Of the diving ducks, Redheads are the most common breeders in the United States.

• Female redheads lay an average of 7 to 10 eggs. They are also notorious for parasitizing Canvasback nests, depositing their own eggs into the nest to be incubated by a foster mother.

• Surveys conducted in 2007 and 2009 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found a population of more than 1 million Redheads in North America.

• Redheads enjoy a varied diet, feeding on seeds, rhizomes, tubers of pondweeds, wild celery, water lilies, grasses and wild rice. They also feed on mollusks, aquatic insects and small fish.

• Male Redheads weigh an average of 2.4 pounds, while females weigh about 2.1 pounds.

Other ducks in this genus include the Hardhead, an Australian duck also known as the White-eyed Duck, and the critically-endangered Baer’s Pochard of China. The total population of Baer’s Pochard is probably fewer than 1,000 individuals.

The genus is rounded out by the New Zealand Scaup, Ferruginous Duck and the Common Pochard, which bears a striking resemblance to the Redhead. The Common Pochard ranges through Europe and Asia.

Another member of the genus, the Madagascar Pochard, was presumed extinct since the late 1990s. However, the species was re-discovered at Lake Matsaborimena in Madagascar in 2006. Efforts are ongoing to protect and preserve this species. Only 60 individuals, including 18 ducklings hatched in a captive breeding program during the spring of 2012, are known to exist.

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A male Red-winged Blackbird made a belated appearance on my year list Thursday, March 7. I saw the bird beneath the feeders before leaving for work. The ground was still blanketed by the snow that had fallen the previous day. Red-winged Blackbirds have been observed since mid-February by several of my friends. I’ve also received from readers reports of Red-winged Blackbirds stopping at their feeders. So, it was good to finally get this common bird on my list of species for 2013.

Although the American Robin gets most of the publicity as a harbinger of spring, the Red-winged Blackbird is often a more reliable indicator of the waning of winter. In some part of North America, the Red-winged Blackbird tends to return earlier than robins.

Both birds are now on my list for 2013, so I can focus on some new spring arrivals in the coming weeks.

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John W. Adams took this photo of Redheads swimming on Wilbur Lake.

John W. Adams took this photo of Redheads swimming on Wilbur Lake.

Call me at 297-9077 or 542-4151 to share an observation, make a comment or ask a question. Readers can also send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or bstevens@starhq.com. I’m also on Facebook.

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