Tufted Duck

Aythya fuligula

40-47cm

Appearance

The drooping crest on the crown is a clear signifier of this species, and the crest is longer in the male. This diving duck has a short neck and rounded head, and its bill is wide, and blue-grey with a black tip. The sexes are dissimilar; the male has black and white plumage with a purplish sheen visible on its dark head in the right light. It has a piercing golden eye. The female is brown, darker on her upperparts. She has a dark bill, yellowish flanks and a white belly. Females may have a pale smudge at the base of the bill and light-coloured feathers beneath the tail. When flying, a conspicuous stripe runs down the wings of both sexes. They eye colour is duller in the juvenile and the plumage is not as bright.

Habitat

The Tufted Duck is a common all-year resident; thousands of pairs breed in the region. It prefers to avoid deeper water, tending towards slow-flowing rivers, inland lakes and reservoirs with sufficient vegetation surrounding the edges. During the winter it may assemble on bigger bodies of water and occasionally on the ocean.

Character

Usually form big flocks when not in the breeding season, occasionally associating with other diving ducks and Coots. It has a distinct jump that it does before diving. There's a higher ratio of males to females in winter flocks.

Food

This bird dives to water-bottoms to eat freshwater mussels, shrimps, crustaceans. Their diet also includes insects and their larvae, such as caddis fly, and plants such as pondweed and sedges.

Breeding

These birds usually pair up in late winter or spring, and nesting begins in May. Nesting usually occurs in colonies, sheltered and close to water, though solitary nests are not uncommon. 8-11 eggs are laid by the female and she incubates for 25 days; the male deserts during this time. Young are able to feed themselves after hatching and can fly after 45 days, though the female commonly leaves them before this time.

Population

The Tufted Duck is widespread in lowland England, Scotland and Ireland, but more scant in Wales. Many of the species who breed in southern Britain are resident, but there's a migratory population too; most of those that nest in Iceland fly to Britain and Ireland in September and October. Northern European birds often migrate south or west to spend winter in western Europe, including Britain. Winter migrants depart for their breeding ground in February. Over 16 000 pairs breed in the UK and up to 2500 pairs in Ireland. In winter, there may be 120 000 individuals in the UK and 36 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Should be simple to identify, but there may be confusion due to similarities with the Scaup, so look for the tufted crown. This bird has been known to become relatively tame when it is fed regularly in urban settings.

Voice

Usually a silent bird, except for a gentle peeping call during courtship. Female can utter a raspy 'karr', most common when flying.
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