Netta rufinared-crested pochard

Geographic Range

Classified as a diving duck species, red-crested pochards (Netta refina) have a wide breeding range that extends from the British Isles to China. Almost half of the population (27,000 to 59,000 pairs) breeds in Europe and about 20% (4,200 to 12,000 pairs) breeds in the European Union (EU). Eighty percent of the EU population breeds in Spain, 15% breeds in France, and a small percentage breeds in Germany. As with many other species, red-crested pochard breeding trends vary between countries. There is an eastward range that extends from central EU member states, with the exception of Hungary and Poland. In these areas, the population is in decline. Red-crested pochards stay in Eurasia for the winter months and there are three traditional groups that are seen in the western Palearctic. The Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean groups, with about 43,500 birds, are in the EU areas and the Central European group takes up most of the member states, containing upwards of 50,000 birds during the winter. In autumn, immature birds and adult males travel together in dense flocks for moulting, which is usually northbound through Western Europe, located in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Along with Western and Central Europe, large flocks have also been seen in Central Asia during this time. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)


Red-crested pochards prefer to nest in eutrophic ponds and lakes that are bordered by emergent halophytes and beds of macrophytes. They also nest near slow-current rivers with clearings of open water or islands with shrubs and grasses. Prior to the 1980's, red-crested pochards preferred nesting near brackish water. Since then, nearly the entire breeding population has changed its habitat to freshwater marshes and reed beds, likely as a response to growing populations of yellow-legged gulls and the predators they attract. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007; Gay, et al., 2004)

During their molting period, red-crested pochards no longer fly. They seek out areas of open water (coastal, inland, brackish, or fresh) with an abundance of charophyte beds. In the winter months, lakes and ponds are used as daytime resting areas and the existing vegetation provides some shelter. Preferred habitats are in open spaces that are free from disturbances and contain accessible feeding sites. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007; Gay, et al., 2004)

  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • taiga
  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Male red-crested pochards have orange-brown heads with reddish beaks and pale flanks. The less-colorful females are brown with pale-colored cheeks and bicolored bills. Juveniles are darker with multicolored bellies. The basal metabolic rate is about 4.068 W. ("Profile Red-crested Pochard", 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    1 to 1.4 kg
    2.20 to 3.08 lb
  • Range length
    50 to 65 cm
    19.69 to 25.59 in
  • Range wingspan
    85 to 90 cm
    33.46 to 35.43 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    4.068 cm3.O2/g/hr


Red-crested pochards are monogamous breeders. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007; "Profile Red-crested Pochard", 2012; Defos du Rau, et al., 2003; "Field Guide to Birds of the United Kingdom", 2013)

Pairs form in the winter and a bond develops throughout the spring migration. Red-crested pochards breed in isolated pairs or in loose colonies. Many birds begin breeding at one year of age, though others don't begin until year two. Breeding location varies by area; birds in Austria breed in lakes, birds in Belgium breed in ponds, and birds in Denmark breed in lagoons. Females lay their eggs between late March and early July in central and southern Europe. Nests are built from the ground up, mostly in the dense vegetation of reed beds. Nesting among other species such as the black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) increases breeding success, and about 30% of nests include egg parasitism. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007; "Profile Red-crested Pochard", 2012; Defos du Rau, et al., 2003; "Field Guide to Birds of the United Kingdom", 2013)

  • Breeding interval
    Red-crested pochards breed in the winter, incubates during April, hatches in June and July, and becomes independent by September.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season occurs during the winter months shortly after autumn.
  • Range eggs per season
    6 to 14
  • Range time to hatching
    26 to 28 days
  • Range fledging age
    35 to 40 days
  • Range time to independence
    45 to 50 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

From the time the eggs are laid to the time they hatch, the female red-crested pochard is the primary caretaker. She is responsible for incubating the eggs and looking after the chicks until they fledge approximately 50 days after hatching. The male is responsible for courtship-feeding in which the female approaches him, takes the food from his bill, and feeds the ducklings. The young return to their mother's side voluntarily or when called to receive food. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007; Johnsgard and Kear, 1968)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


There are no overall survival or mortality monitoring systems throughout Europe, but separate areas do surveys. Very little has been published about annual survival rates in N. rufina. Duckling and fledgling survivorship, however, has been monitored in Spain and Germany, an average 5.5 to 6.8 ducklings per clutch survive to two weeks old, and an average of 4.3 to 4.4 survive to independence. Little is known about N. rufina longevity and lifespan while in captivity. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    7.6 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 7 years


Red-crested pochards are migratory and disperse locally as well. Breeding occurs from mid-April through July at times in single pairs or loose groups. During this time, male pochards and non-breeders molt and become flightless for around four weeks from June through August. The birds travel to their wintering grounds in October after the molting and breeding seasons are complete. During winter migration, red-crested pochards form large groups with hundreds of other individuals. As a diurnal species, these birds are most active in the morning and in the evening. ("Encyclopedia of Life", 2011)

Home Range

Red-crested pochards can be found from the British Isles all the way to China. Territory size is unknown in this species, since it is often on the move and does not always occupy the same areas each year. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

Communication and Perception

Not much is known about red-crested pochard communication systems. Sound is important when calling other flocks to a feeding area, smell is important for mating, and touch is important when caring for young. Sight allows birds to see body language, identify others, find food, and care for young. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007; "Field Guide to Birds of the United Kingdom", 2013)

Food Habits

Red-crested pochards are herbivores. During the breeding season, they feed on aquatic plants and algae (macrophytes and charophytes). Outside the the breeding season they also eat sedges, tape-grasses, and rice, which helps them adapt to a winter seed diet. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • algae
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


Humans are the only predator species that affects the population of these birds. Humans affect red-crested pochards in many ways, including habitat loss, hunting, and pollution. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Little information is available on the role of red-crested pochards in the ecosystem. However, this species helps control wetland plant populations and acts as a seed disperser. ("Encyclopedia of Life", 2011; "Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Mutualist Species
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Hunting this bird is an economic activity that helps keep populations under control. Specific impacts of the August to September hunting season on breeding populations is unknown. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

The down feathers of this species, along with close relatives, are used in jackets, blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows. There is a long relationship between ducks and humans, economically and culturally. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Netta rufina and close relatives have been known to be agricultural pests as well as carriers of avian influenza. ("Encyclopedia of Life", 2011)

Conservation Status

Red-crested pochard populations are subject to lead poisoning from the hunting season: 4 to 36% of the animals tested had lead poisoning from having a lead shot pellet in their gizzards. To get rid of this threat, lead shot should be illegal and people should have to hunt with steel shot. Habitat loss is also one of the more important reasons for population declines. Wetland drainage and climatic changes affect where these birds breed and travel for the winter. Over the decades, red-crested pochards have adapted with the environment fairly quickly and can change their wintering area in response to weather and climate changes. Conservation efforts should focus on minimizing wetland loss, degradation, and pollution. Having better information on this species will also help future researchers improve wild habitats. Red-crested pochards are sensitive to human disturbance, so socio-economic activities should be done minimally so there are no adverse affects. ("Encyclopedia of Life", 2011)

Other Comments

In order to understand these birds better, research must be done locally and internationally. Their population limits and degree of isolation is not well-known, along with local population sizes in popular breeding areas (including mortality and productivity). Several monitoring plans should be implemented so that better information is available for this species. ("Management plan for red-crested pochard", 2007)


Jessie Lewin (author), University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Shaina Stewart (editor), University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate


2011. "Encyclopedia of Life" (On-line). Accessed August 22, 2013 at 2013. "Field Guide to Birds of the United Kingdom" (On-line). Accessed August 21, 2013 at

Natura 2000. Management plan for red-crested pochard. 005-2007. France: European Communities. 2007. Accessed August 19, 2013 at

Avibirds. 2012. "Profile Red-crested Pochard" (On-line). Accessed August 21, 2013 at

Amat, J. 1991. Effects of red-crested pochard nest parasitsm on mallards. The Wilson Bulletin, 103: 501-503. Accessed August 19, 2013 at

Butchart, S., J. Ekstrom, L. Malpas. 2013. "Red-Crested Pochard" (On-line). Birdlife International. Accessed August 19, 2013 at

Defos du Rau, P., C. Barbraud, J. Mondain-Monval. 2003. Estimating breeding population size of the red-crested pochard in the Camargue (southern France) taking into account detection probability: implications for conservation. Animal Conservation, 6: 379-385. Accessed August 19, 2013 at

Gay, L., P. Defos Du Rau, J. Mondain-Monval, P. Crochet. 2004. Phylogeography of a gam species: the red-crested pochard and consequences for its management. Molecular Ecology, 13: 1035-1045. Accessed August 19, 2013 at

Johnsgard, P., J. Kear. 1968. A Review of Parental Carrying of Young by Waterfowl. Papers in Ornithology, 32: 2-16.