Tufted ducks are small or medium-sized ducks that dive underwater. The easiest way to recognize a tufted duck is by the tuft on the back of their head, that sometimes gets stuck down from diving. They are dark on their backs, but white on their bellies and underneath their wings. Tufted ducks have bright yellow eyes. Males are darker and have more noticeable tufts. Males have black backs and are white on the sides. Females are brown with dark yellow flanks. Their tufts are less obvious, or they sometimes don't have them. Young tufted ducks look a lot like older females, but their feathers aren't as bright and their tufts are less obvious. When it's not the breeding season, males are more brown with less obvious tufts. Males are usually larger than females, are 42 to 48 cm long, and weigh 753.0 to 1026.2 g. Females are generally 39 to 44 cm long and weigh 629.8 to 906.8 g. The average wingspan of both males and females is 70 cm. (Cleeves, 2002; Dick, 2002; Robinson, 2005)
Tufted ducks live in Europe, Asia, Africa, and along the coasts in North America. They didn't live in North America in the past, but lakes made by humans are great habitat for them to find food. In the summer, they are mostly found far north in Europe and Asia, like in England and islands north of there, in Norway, and east along Europe and Asia. In the winter, they live in southern Europe, northern Africa, and southern Asia. They are also found along the east and west coasts of North America and around the Great Lakes, though not very often. Other times they are found on other islands like near Portugal, off the coast of Africa, and near Indonesia and the Philippines. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2011)
When they travel between summer and winter locations, tufted ducks have different habitats. In the summer, they most often live in shallow lakes. They especially like water that is 3 to 5 m deep and lakes that have lots of wetland plants. They perch on or groom themselves on the plants, and also take shelter from the wind. In the summer, they don't usually inhabit lakes more than 15 m deep. In the winter, they are found in larger bodies of water like marshes, lakes, man-made ponds, and places where rivers meet the ocean. When traveling between summer and winter locations, they are also found in and along rivers. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2011)
Tufted ducks form pairs of one male and one female and breed once a year. They choose mates while traveling in the spring and stay together until late June to early July. When selecting a mate, they show off by swimming along together and dipping their bills in and out of the water. Males also swim quickly past females and reach their neck out as far as they can. Males perform some displays by themselves, like swimming quickly while nodding their head back and forth, throwing their head, and grooming behind their wing. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)
Tufted ducks breed from May through early August, but mostly from mid-May to mid-July. They form pairs in the spring that last into late June or early July. They pick out nests by looking in wetlands. Females swim into flooded areas looking for a good spot to nest while males look out for predators or other threats. They try to nest near water in thick clumps of plants. Females use grasses and feathers to build nests, which takes almost a whole week. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)
Females lay 6 to 14 eggs each season, but usually between 8 and 10. Eggs are oval-shaped, smooth, and olive-brown or olive-gray. Females keep the eggs warm for 26 to 27 days. Chicks are covered in downy feathers when they hatch, and weigh 28 to 31 g. They soon begin to follow their parents around and feed themselves. In 49 to 56 days they are able to fly, and they become independent 21 to 56 more days later. Tufted ducks can breed within the first year after they are born. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)
Only females care for the ducklings. Males help by providing food to the females while they lay eggs. The mothers don't help the young out of the eggs, but they get rid of the egg shells. They do this by eating the shell, moving it away from the nest, or crushing it. Young tufted ducks learn how to dive within 48 hours after hatching, and then they don't have to depend on their mothers for food anymore. (Bent, 1951)
Scientists don't know much about how long tufted ducks live.
Tufted ducks are social during the winter when they aren't breeding. They gather together in groups in shallow lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers. In the breeding season, males establish territories around their nest and defend them from nearby males and predators. Tufted ducks travel every season between summer and winter locations. Like most ducks, they spend most of their lives in the water and rarely travel far away from it. They are usually active during the day but may travel at night when they migrate. Females make a "karr" sound while flying, but males are usually silent. (Cleeves, 2002; Hill, 1983)
Tufted ducks dive in a unique way that is different from other ducks. They launch themselves partway out of the water to dive farther down underwater when looking for food. Juveniles stay underwater for a shorter time than adults. Ducklings and juveniles skim the surface of the water for insects and dive in very shallow water to get New Zealand mud snails and Zebra mussels. As they get older and larger, they stay underwater for longer and longer periods of time. (Cleeves, 2002; Hill, 1983)
The total area where tufted ducks breed and live is about 20,400,000 sq km. Scientists don't know territory sizes for individual tufted ducks. (BirdLife International, 2009)
Tufted ducks communicate mostly using body language and by making noise. Their calls sound like, "korr-korr-korr", or "ka-ka-ka karr". They usually call when they start to fly, when they bicker, or if startled. Females call louder than males. Body language is important when choosing mates. Males start by swimming in quick circles around females. Males stick their neck out to their full length, raising their bill but not looking right at the female. Males dip their bills often and make mating calls as well. Females also flaunt themselves to males before mating. Like most birds, their most important senses are sight, hearing, touch, and chemical sensing. (Bent, 1951)
Tufted ducks eat both plants and animals, and their most important food source is molluscs. They most often eat zebra mussels, which they find in slow moving rivers, canals, docks, reservoirs, and freshwater lakes. Tufted ducks eat many kinds of plants parts, especially leaves, stems, and roots. The eat seeds sometimes too. They usually look for food together with other tufted ducks. They dive at the same time or right after each other. Tufted ducks stay underwater for a few seconds to one minute while they eat. They usually eat underwater, but bring larger plants and animals up to the surface to crush them before eating. Scientists find sand, fine shells, and small stones in their stomachs. (Bent, 1951; Olney, 1963)
Human beings are the main predators of tufted ducks. In the breeding season, tufted ducks are protected by hunting laws, but they can be hunted during the rest of the year. Other predators are large birds of prey like hawks, and land predators like foxes, raccoons, and common snapping turtles. Many animals eat their eggs, including domestic dogs, crows, and skunks. Like many birds, females have camouflage feathers while they are caring for the eggs and ducklings. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002)
Adult tufted ducks, their eggs, and their young are all common foods for many predators, and impact many kinds of animals without backbones that live in the water. They are hosts to avian nasal parasites, which they get from eating mollusks. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2011; Cleeves, 2002)
There are no known negative impacts of tufted ducks on humans.
Tufted ducks are are an important part of the hunting industry, and can be hunted any time when it isn't the breeding season. They are a good reason to conserve wetlands, which are economically important to humans. (Miller and Spoolman, 2008)
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