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Aythya americana

Length: 19 inches Wingspan: 32 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Rufuous-Brown head, black breast, gray back.  Compare to white back of Canvasback.

Redhead - Aythya americana A relatively common diving duck in South Dakota, very common in both migration and during the summer breeding season.  They are one of the dabbling ducks, primarily feeding on aquatic vegetation by dipping the front half of their body below the surface as they forage.  The Redhead regularly lay eggs in the nests of other birds, sometimes including non-duck species such as bitterns and herons.  Some female Redheads never raise their own young, only parasitizing other species' nests.


Redheads will utilize a variety of aquatic habitats, with nesting sites typically constructed in shallow wetlands and marshes, with thick herbaceous vegetation that provides both foraging and shelter opportunities. They will however use a very wide array of habitats, from large reservoirs, to temporary flooded ditches and fields, to small farm ponds. 


Primarily the leaves, roots, and seeds of aquatic plants.  Also will occasionally feed on aquatic insects and crustaceans. 


Forages by both diving for food and dabbling in shallow water.  Gregarious, with many often nesting in close proximity, which no doubt contributes to nest parasitism with the species.  Will also gather in very large flocks during migration and in winter.


May through July in South Dakota. The nest of a Redhead is a shallow and sometimes relatively large bowl, constructed of cattails and other wetland vegetation. It is typically placed in shallow water, anchored to submerged vegetation. Sometimes they will also nest on dry land adjacent to an aquatic habitat. The female lays between 7 and 12 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 25 days, and leave the nest shortly after, gathering their own food, but being tended to and protected by the female. 

Redheads are also a species that will parasitize nest of other Redheads or other duck species. Female Redheads will sometimes mate, lay a number of eggs in the nests of other birds, and then lay eggs in her own nest. 


Male Redheads have a unique, haunting MEE-ough call used during courtship. Both males and females have other grunting call notes used when disturbed or in flight.


Summers in the northern plains, western U.S., central Canada, and locally elsewhere.  Winters in the southern half of the U.S. and points south.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Redhead sightings

Similar Species:

Redhead could potentially be confused with the following species:

Canvasback - Aythya valisineria Canvasback - Aythya valisineria Lesser Scaup - Aythya affinis Ring-necked Duck - Aythya collaris
Canvasback (male and female) Canvasback (female) Lesser Scaup (male and female) Ring-necked Duck (female)

Conservation Status:

Redheads have a very wide geographic range, are common in parts of that range, and systematic surveys across the past few decades show small increases in overall populations. The IUCN considers the Redhead to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

April 5th, 2008 - Dewey Gevik Nature Area, Minnehaha County - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Redhead photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Redhead - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident in the eastern part of the state, less common in the west.  Rare in winter.

Additional Redhead Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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