This past week we have had a couple ring-necked ducks on the ponds near the nature center at Pioneer Ridge Nature Area. Usually the male is swimming alone, but a female has been spotted with him on a couple occasions throughout the week.
These ducks are smaller than a mallard and closer to the size of a crow. They got the name ring-neck because of a brownish colored ring around the neck of the males. It is often difficult to see unless the sunlight is just right. As you can see in these pictures from the Macaulay Library, the white ring around the beak is a helpful identifying characteristic. Males have a dark head and back with lighter sides, and the females are mostly brown with white around the eye and near the bill.
Ring-necks are diving ducks that eat some water plants such as stems, seeds and tubers of pondweed, water lilies, wild rice and arrowhead among others. They also eat snails, dragonfly nymphs, leeches and other small aquatic invertebrates. They seem to prefer smaller ponds. During migration they may use flooded fields, marshes and beaver ponds. These ducks tend to visit Iowa only during migration, but may be found in some areas during the winter months.
They nest in the far northern areas of North America and into Canada. They can winter as far south as Mexico and other parts of Central America including the Caribbean. Their nests can be found among thick mats of plants along marshes and shallow ponds. These nests may be placed on plant stems bent over the water or on floating plants to help protect from land predators. Nests are built of plants from near the nest and lined with down feathers from the female duck. When done, it is about eleven inches across and two to four inches deep. Here she will lay 6 to 14 eggs.
Potential predators of adult, young and egg include red fox, raccoons, some hawks, great-horned owls, snapping turtles, skunk, pike, bass, and domestic dogs. While populations of ring-necked ducks seem to be fairly stable, they are affected by loss of habitat.
The spring migration has begun! Get outside and take in all that is occurring in the natural world. Migrants can really put on a show as they move through.
Don’t forget to attend our Spring Birding 101 Hike on April 21!
These photos were taken from the Macaulay Library collection on the Cornell Lab or Ornithology page – taken by Terence Zahner and Ryan Schain.