Friday, March 26, 2010
Name: The Ring-necked Duck is Aythya collaris. The genus name, Aythya, is from an old Greek word which meant a water bird or perhaps a sea bird. Other ducks in the same genus are the Canvasback, the Redhead, and the Scaups. They are all diving ducks. The species name, collaris, comes from the Latin ‘collarium’ which means collar or neckband. Along with the common name, it refers to one of the bird’s most subtle features and is not a useful field characteristic.
When and where seen: Ring-necked Ducks spend the winter south of here and go north for breeding We see them in Carlisle when they migrate. The first alert I got that Ring-necked Ducks were passing through came from Claire Wilcox who saw some on the Greenough Pond on March 17. Tom Brownrigg saw some at the Cranberry Bog, and 13 at Greenough on March 21 along with 15 Green-winged Teal, a pair of Wood Ducks, and a Hooded Merganser. The range maps show a very short distance between the northern edge of the winter range and the southern edge of the breeding range here in the east. This migratory band gets wider as you go west.
Distinguishing characteristics: In delicious defiance of its name, the Ring-necked Duck sports a white ring around its bill. The ring is near the tip of the bill and is present in both males and females. It is bold enough to be visible through any reasonable binoculars. The male has another finer white ring where the bill meets the head. The female has a white ring around her eye. The namesake ring on the neck of the male is a cinnamon or chestnut color while the head, neck, chest, and back are glossy black. You have to be very close to see the neck ring. (The take-away for any human worried about their own “ring-around-the-collar” is to switch to darker colored shirts.) The tail section of the male is also black, and now in its breeding colors it has large white or pale gray patches on its sides with an upward-pointing peak at the front edge. With the body of the male black at both ends and white in the middle, I think of it as the Oreo duck. The female colors are softer grays and browns – it would have to be the oatmeal cookie duck. Both male and females have a peaked head most noticeable in profile. If you see a duck with a well-defined white neckband, that looks as if it should have been named the ring-necked duck, it is probably a male Mallard. You may see other Oreo-style ducks but none of them will have the white band on the bill.
References: Cornell Lab of Ornithology at www.allaboutbirds.org; National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America; The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley.
Please feel free to write the Biodiversity Corner on any species you have seen recently – or tell me what you are seeing. The only requirements are that the subject occurs naturally in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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