Sunday, April 8, 2012


Ring-necks -- © Dave Spier

If you’re familiar with the male Ring-necked Pheasant (named for the white collar encircling its neck), you might think the Ring-necked Duck is similarly adorned. Well, talk about a misnamed bird, and this one fits. It actually has a chestnut-brown collar hidden between a dark neck and black breast on the male. It’s virtually impossible to see in the field, or should I say, on the pond. It was named by hunters and early ornithologists holding one in their hands. I mention early ornithologists because they collected birds for study at the end of a shotgun before binoculars were improved in the mid- to late-1800's.* This is how John James Audubon acquired specimens to serve as close-up models for his famous paintings in the 1820's. After shooting them, he’d pin the dead birds to a mounting board and position them to depict the desired pose or behavior. At the time, America’s natural resources seemed inexhaustible.

The Ring-necked Duck is actually a diver, but it is often found on small ponds during spring migration. It seems more at home with the likes of wigeon and other puddle ducks (also called dabblers). They are on their way to Canada where their breeding range corresponds roughly with the boreal forest. A map of the summer range shows the Ring-neck Duck extending down into Minnesota and eastward through the Great Lakes to the Adirondacks and northern New England.

Male ring-necks have a white ring around their blue-gray bills. Much of the male is dark with a white "shoulder" stripe between the light-gray flanks and black breast. In bright sunlight the head may have a purple sheen and often shows a crest at the back of the crown. Male Lesser Scaup are somewhat similar, with all blue-gray bills and dirty white sides.

Female ring-necks of course are drab with mostly brown tones. They have a faint white ring around the bill and white eye rings.

Questions and corrections may be sent to the Northeast Naturalist.  More information about other birds and birding in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex and Finger Lakes region can be found on the Montezuma Birding Trail website and the Eaton Birding Society website

*Although binoculars were invented in the late 1600's, soon after the telescope, they were low power and difficult to use because of a narrow field of view.   Higher-powered versions presented an upside-down image until 1854 when erecting prisms were added.

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