Bird Lore: Ring-necked duck

The drake (male) ring-necked duck has a violet band around his neck. (Photos by LeRoy VanHee)

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As with most ducks, the ring-necked duck drake (male) and hen (female) look distinctive because of different feather colors and patterns. The question that troubles many viewers is the name of this duck. Where is the ring around its neck? The drake does have a dark violet band around its neck. It can be seen in some photos but its visibility varies with light. It is well observed by those who have the duck in hand: bird banders in the field; hunters with a body; scientists studying museum specimens.

The ring-necked duck favors fresh water lakes, ponds, and rivers for overwintering in Western Washington. For the most part, its Washington breeding range is in Eastern Washington. It seeks out small lakes, bogs, swamps, or marshes near forested habitat. It can be found year-round on parts of Hood Canal and many of the rivers that flow into Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.

The diet of the ring-necked duck includes mollusks such as clams, snails, and crustaceans, as well as plant material such as pondweeds, wild celery, and seeds of pondweeds, sedges, and grasses. This is a duck that forages both by diving and by dabbling.

There are limited opportunities to view the ring-necked duck in Edmonds because of the absence of a river and limited freshwater lakes. Occasionally They can be seen in small numbers during winter and early spring on the pond at the end of the Point Edwards public path. Lake Ballinger, shared by both Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, is another viewing site. In Lynnwood, look for this species on Sprague Pond at the mini park or on Scriber Lake.

The ring-necked duck is described as an early spring migrant, leaving for its breeding grounds from late February to early May. It returns to its wintering grounds from late September to early December. It is usually silent but the females make what has been described as a “low, rough, purred snort.” You can listen to it at this link: http://www.xeno-canto.org/100903.

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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