-- In the Wild -- Redhead duck stuck in Bandera
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
Passing by Indian Lake in Bandera earlier this summer, a little red headed duck paddling in the center of the pond caught my eye. A somewhat less colorful partner circled nearby.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas is home to hundreds of thousands of ducks of many species. Most ducks winter in Texas after their migration from the Northern states and Canada.
We hear their calls as they sail in their high-flying Vs headed south.
Most are headed for the coastal bend or further south to Mexico. In the early spring, they head back north for breeding. Occasionally, a few ducks and geese get left behind during the annual migration cycle.
This was probably the case of the pair I spotted at Indian Lake in the heat of this Texas summer.
Males of most duck species are usually more colorful than the females except during eclipse plumage which results from the replacement or shedding of feathers. For a few weeks after breeding, the drakes (males) resemble the hens in appearance until they return to breeding or wintering plumage.
Wing feathers are only shed once a year, maintain the same coloration and can be used to properly identify ducks in the hand.
Ducks usually lay from four to as many as 18 eggs, in the case of mergansers.
Red headed ducks are diving ducks.
They feed primarily on fish, shellfish, mollusks, insects, and the seeds, leaves, and tubers of aquatic plants. They usually run or fly low across the water to take off. Many diving ducks have legs toward the back end of their body, making it difficult to walk on land.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the male redhead duck has a bright rust red head and gray back, with a black chest and rear end. The head is rounded and the bill is light blue with a black tip. The female will have a darker red head and breast, and a brown back with a darker blue bill with a black tip.
Many female redheads make no nests of their own, but instead lay their eggs in the nests of other ducks. They lay an average of 7-10 eggs.
According to Ducks Unlimited, the redhead is an average size duck, weighing around two and a half pounds.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the North American redhead population winters in the Laguna Madre of Texas and Mexico. Smaller numbers of redheads winter in Florida.
Redhead populations have remained relatively steady since 1955, hovering in the 400,000 to 800,000 range. As of the 2009 survey, there were more than 1 million redheads, a plateau that was reached in 2007, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Here in Bandera, a little family of redheads have joined those population numbers.
Photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology