The tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) may at first glance appear to be a ring-necked duck. However, this species has several differentiating characteristics that are worth noticing. For starters, note the male’s crest or tuft, a somewhat disorderly bunch of feathers drooping from the back of his head. He has a glossy purplish head, making his yellow eyes stand out in stark contrast. His body is black at both ends and white in the middle, capped on top by a black back.
Like so many other female ducks, the female tufted duck is rather nondescript, being a very dark brown. However, note her yellow eyes. Sometimes she may show some white coloring at the base of her bill, but this field mark can be rather inconsistent. She may have a hint of a tuft, but it may be short enough to present more as a duck having a bad hair day than an actual crest.
In flight, note the broad white wing stripe, contrasting markedly with the otherwise dark wings of both the male and the female. This species flies swiftly and directly with steady wing beats.
Best Field Marks
- Tuft on back of head (most obvious in males, but present in females).
The tufted duck is usually silent. However, it is capable of making quiet growls and whistles.
Distribution & Occurrence
The tufted duck is not common across the continental United States, being primarily a bird of the Eastern Hemisphere, and is rarely ever seen inland. However, an individual bird shows up from time to time in flocks of scaup, typically in the winter months.
Only one tufted duck has ever been reported in Kansas. This bird was seen at Lake Afton on October 27, 1996.
The tufted duck is not one to stay put when startled, being known to take off sprinting across the surface of the water before launching into the air.
This is one of the diving duck species. It eats a variety of plants, mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.
Attracting a tufted duck is not likely in Kansas for either birdwatchers or hunters.
If you catch a glimpse of a tuft, identification is easy. Barring that, note that the male ring-necked duck has gray sides and a gray wing stripe, instead of white. Also, he has a white crescent dividing his breast from his sides. Both male and female ring-necked ducks have a white ring around their bills that is another giveaway.
Again, a tuft is a sure sign that you are looking at a tufted duck. Also note that the male scaup has a gray back instead of a black back. Females can be differentiated fairly reliably, as well, the female scaup having a big, bold white patch at the base of the bill that makes a highly visible field mark.