The tufted duck, or Aythya fuligula, is a Eurasian species of diving duck, closely related to the North American species of the Ring-Necked duck and the Lesser and Greater Scaup. It looks very similar to these species, largely discernible by the tuft of feathers on the back of its head. Seen occasionally along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States, its primary habitat includes Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The average adult tufted duck weighs 1.5 pounds (760 g) and is 17-inches-long (44 cm) with a 27-inch (70 cm) wingspan. Non-breeding males, females and juveniles are similar in coloring and markings with brown backs and white bellies. The breeding male tufted duck is typically more striking with black backs and white sides and bellies. White stripes appear on their black wings, and their rounded heads take on a purple sheen during the breeding season. Both males and females have bright yellow eyes. The tuft of feathers for which this species is named is larger in the male than the female and often difficult to see when their heads are wet from diving.
The tufted duck migrates throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa and occasionally dips into the upper areas of North America and along each U.S. coastline. The breeding grounds of these ducks stretch from Siberia westward to Iceland, but have never been known to breed in the Americas. When tufted ducks do appear in North America, they are generally found intermingled with their Scaup and Ring-Necked cousins.
Tufted ducks become sexually mature at about one year. They usually prefer to nest on small islands where predators, like the mink, are few. Typical clutch size is between eight and 11 eggs. Females incubate the eggs for approximately one month and chicks become juveniles in about seven weeks. The average lifespan of the tufted duck is four years, though at least one of these birds was reported to die at 24 years of age.
When it comes to eating, tufted ducks feed both under and on top of the water. They dive to eat aquatic plants, snails, crabs. Small amphibians and water insects are also part of the tufted duck diet. This species of duck also consumes surface duckweed and flies.
Tufted ducks are not a threatened species. They are generally expanding their habitats and numbers due to a growing freshwater mussel population in the United Kingdom, the growing numbers of water-filled pits from gravel extraction, and an increase in man-made lakes. Tufted ducks typically thrive near human habitations, especially where ponds and lakes are located, such as a community park.