Aythya fuligulatufted duck

Geographic Range

Tufted ducks are migratory birds with a broad geographic range that extends from Eurasia and Africa to the North American coasts. They were historically native only to the Palearctic Region. However, over the past century, their range has expanded due to an increased availability of open water due to man-made changes in its habitat. Man-made lakes have provided these birds with ideal feeding habitats. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2011)

During breeding months (May to early August), tufted ducks inhabit most Palearctic regions such as the Faroe Islands, the British Isles, Norway, nearly all of Europe, and Asia to eastern Siberia. The limit of their range extends from about 70 degrees North and South latitudes to about 50 degrees north. During the winter months (November to April), tufted ducks can be found in southern Europe, northern Africa, southern Asia, and some areas throughout North America. They can also be found occasionally throughout areas of Madeira, Borneo, Liberia, the Seychelle, Pelew, Marianne and Philippine Islands. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2011)


The habitat of tufted ducks varies seasonally due to its migratory behavior. Throughout the breeding season, they are most often found in shallow lakes. They prefer shallow water ranging from 3 to 5 m deep, with tall thick wetland vegetation, such as reeds, for perching and preening. Vegetation is also an important factor in protection from the wind. During the breeding season tufted ducks typically avoid lakes that are deeper than 15 m. During winter months, they can be found generally in larger bodies of open water such as marshes, lakes, estuaries, and man-made ponds. During periods of migration, they can also be found in and along rivers. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2009)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • coastal
  • Range depth
    2 to 15 m
    6.56 to 49.21 ft
  • Average depth
    7 m
    22.97 ft

Physical Description

Tufted ducks are small to medium-sized diving ducks. Sexual dimorphism is clearly apparent among males and females. Males are typically larger than females, with an average body length of 42 to 48 cm and a mass of 753.0 to 1026.2 g. Females generally range from 39 to 44 cm in length and weigh in at 629.8 to 906.8 g. Seasonally, body mass will fluctuate between sexes. Both male and female tufted ducks have an average wingspan of 70 cm. (Cleeves, 2002; Dick, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

The defining characteristic of this species that distinguishes them from the other members of Anatidae is the distinct tuft located on the back of the head. The tuft is black and more prominent on males, and generally brown and less noticeable on females. Adult males are solid black with white underbellies and flanks. They have bright yellow eyes and a distinct tuft that is sometimes matted down from diving. Adult females are brown with dark yellow flanks and a white underbelly and a less pronounced tuft, or sometimes no tuft at all. Females also have bright yellow eyes. The wing undersides of both adult females and males is white. (Cleeves, 2002; Dick, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

Juvenile tufted ducks are similar in appearance to mature female adults, however, juvenile color is less vibrant and the tuft is less pronounced. Males in non-breeding plumage also resemble females with a brown tint and a less prominent tuft or no tuft at all. (Cleeves, 2002; Dick, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    753.0 (male) 629.8 (female) to 1026.2 (male) 906.8 (female) g
    to oz
  • Average mass
    889.6 (male) 768.3 (female) g
  • Range length
    406.4 to 457.2 mm
    16.00 to 18.00 in
  • Average length
    431.8 mm
    17.00 in
  • Range wingspan
    201.5 (male) 193.6 (female) to 212.1 (male) 206.6 (female) mm
    to in


Tufted ducks are monogamous and breeds once a year. Adults form pair bonds during spring migration and mates remain together until late June to early July. Reproductive behavior and mannerisms are similar to other diving ducks. Examples of "showing off" behavior include dipping, also known as drinking, which is when the males and females swim quickly alongside one another and dip their bills in and out of the water. Another example is the neck stretch, which is when the male swims rapidly past the female and reaches its neck to its entire length, holding it there for a few seconds. Male-only displays are few but consist of nod swimming (a fast swim that includes nodding the head back in forth with full extension), a head throw (similar to neck stretch), and preening behind the wing. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

The breeding season for tufted ducks occurs from May through early August, with peak activity from mid-May to mid-July. The breeding season begins with pair bondings which are formed during spring migration and continue until late June or early July. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

For nest site selection, pairs browse along the open waters of wetlands. Females swim into flooded areas looking for a suitable nesting site while males stay alert for predators and other threats. Ideal nesting areas are near water, generally amid dense vegetation. The female is the constructor of the nest which requires almost a week to complete. Grasses and feathers are used as support for the nest. By the third day of nest building, a bowl shape has been formed; by day six, the nest is strong with a defined shape. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

Female tufted ducks lay between 6 and 14 eggs a season, but on average between 8 and 10. Eggs are smooth and ovular in shape and range in color from olive-brown to olive-gray. Incubation starts after the clutch is completed and begins on the first night the female remains in the nest overnight. Incubation usually lasts 26 to 27 days. Chicks hatch usually weighing 28 to 31 g, covered in downy feathers, and can generally begin following parents and feeding themselves soon after hatching. Fledging occurs 49 to 56 days after hatching and independence occurs 21 to 56 days after fledging. Reproductive maturity is quickly reached by both sexes, and breeding can occur during the following breeding season. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002; Robinson, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Tufted ducks breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season occurs during late winter or spring months
  • Range eggs per season
    8 to 11
  • Average eggs per season
    9 to 10
  • Range time to hatching
    25 to 29 days
  • Average time to hatching
    26 to 27 days
  • Range fledging age
    49 to 56 days
  • Range time to independence
    21 to 56 days
  • Average time to independence
    43 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Parental care for ducklings is exhibited only by females. Males do contribute indirectly by taking care of nutritional needs of the female during the laying process. The young emerge from the egg without any help from the mother, after which she disposes of the egg by ingesting it, removing it from nest area, or crushing the shells. Young tufted ducks do not depend on their mothers for food after they learn to dive. This typically occurs within the first 48 hours of hatching, however, during this first week young ducklings rely mostly on surface foods. (Bent, 1951)

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


Little is known about the lifespan and longevity of tufted ducks.


Tufted ducks are migratory birds that travel seasonally between the breeding and overwintering grounds. Like most ducks, they are highly aquatic and rarely stray far from a body of water. They are diurnal for most of their life but may migrate nocturnally. (Cleeves, 2002; Hill, 1983)

During the breeding season, male tufted duckss establish territories surrounding their nest and will defend it against neighboring males and predators. During migratory periods and the non-breeding season, they are social. Groups typically gather in shallow lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers. Males are generally silent except during mating. Females make a "karr" sound during flight. (Cleeves, 2002; Hill, 1983)

This species can be distinguished from other diving ducks by their unique diving behavior. They launch themselves slightly out of the water to help submerge their bodies underwater while foraging in shallow water. Submergence time for juveniles is less than that of adults. Ducklings and juveniles skim the surface of waters for emerging insects and dive in very shallow water for New Zealand mud snails (Potammopyrgus jenkinsi) and Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Submergence time gradually increases as individuals mature and increase in size. (Cleeves, 2002; Hill, 1983)

Home Range

The range of tufted ducks for both breeding and residency is estimated at 20,400,000 km². Specific territory sizes for male tufted ducks is currently unknown. (BirdLife International, 2009)

Communication and Perception

The use of visual and acoustic perceptions is key for tufted ducks because they are needed to communicate for mating rituals and warning calls. Like most birds, they perceive their environment through visual, auditory, tactile and chemical stimuli. (Bent, 1951)

Both females and males make similar calls, korr,korr,korr, or ka-ka-ka, karr, with the female normally presenting the call louder. Calls are normally emitted when beginning to fly, quarreling, or when startled. (Bent, 1951)

During mate selection, two or three male ducks will flaunt their attributes in the presence of a female. To attract mates, males will swim in circles around a female, passing her rapidly. The male will extend his neck to full length and raises his bill but will not look in the female's direction. Like other diving ducks, male tufted ducks dip their bills frequently and sound calls during courtship. Females have also been spotted flaunting their attributes towards males before mating. (Bent, 1951)

Food Habits

Tufted ducks are omnivores whose main source of food are molluscs (Mollusca). The most preyed upon molluscs are zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Zebra mussels are generally very abundant in slow moving rivers, canals, docks, reservoirs, and large areas of freshwater. In addition, tufted ducks consume a variety of plant materials, mostly leaves, stems, and roots. They also occasionally feed on seeds. They generally forage and feed with other members of their species. They typically dive together, or one after the other very quickly, and stay submerged from a few seconds to one minute. (Bent, 1951; Olney, 1963)

There are always quantities of sand, fine shells, and small stones found within tufted ducks' stomachs. This species usually consumes food underwater; however, when a larger vertebrate or plant is being consumed they bring that food to the surface where they crush the food with their bills before ingested. (Bent, 1951; Olney, 1963)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • bryophytes


The main predators of tufted ducks are humans. They are protected by hunting laws during the breeding season (May through early August); however, they may be hunted during the rest of the year. They can also be hunted by large birds of prey such as hawks, as well as terrestrial predators including foxes, raccoons, and common snapping turtles. In addition, many animals prey on their eggs, including domestic dogs, crows, and skunks. Like many birds, female tufted ducks exhibit cryptic coloration to camouflage themselves while incubating the clutch. (Bent, 1951; Cleeves, 2002)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators

Ecosystem Roles

Adult tufted ducks, eggs, and young are all common sources of food for many predators. In addition, they serve as hosts to a species of avian nasal parasite. This parasite is found in mollusks as an intermediate host, and then are consumed by tufted ducks. They are predators of many aquatic invertebrates, and generally have a significant impact on these populations. (Bent, 1951; BirdLife International, 2011; Cleeves, 2002; Olney, 1963; Rudolfova, et al., 2002)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • avian nasal parasites (Tricholbilharazia regenti)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Tufted ducks are economically important for the hunting and game industry. The only time when the species cannot be hunted is during breeding season. They provide motivation to conserve wetland habitats, which are of great economic importance to humans. (Miller and Spoolman, 2008)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of tufted ducks on humans.

Conservation Status

Tufted ducks have a very large geographic range and their populations are not declining or fluctuating. The conservation status of tufted ducks on the IUCN Red list is of least concern. The largest threat to tufted ducks is habitat loss through human induced alteration. This includes destruction of wetlands for human development, waste pollution, and oil spills. (BirdLife International, 2009; BirdLife International, 2011)

Tufted ducks are not endangered. They live in a large area and their numbers are not decreasing. On the IUCN Red list, they are listed as a species of "least concern". Their biggest threat is loss of habitat due caused by human activities, including destroying wetlands to build buildings, and pollution from trash or oil spills. (BirdLife International, 2009; BirdLife International, 2011)


MayaV. Azzi (author), Radford University, RyanJ Garrison (author), Radford University, Christine Small (editor), Radford University, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map


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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


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.

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.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


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


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


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.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


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

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

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


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).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


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Bevan, R., J. Speakman, P. Butler. 1995. Daily energy expenditure of tufted ducks: a compairson between indirect calorimetry doubly labeled water and heart rate. Functional Ecology, 9: 40-47.

BirdLife International, 2011. "Birdlife International" (On-line). Species factsheet: Aythya fuligula. Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=480.

BirdLife International, 2009. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed March 21, 2011 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Blums, P., J. Nichols, M. Lindberg, J. Hines, A. Mednis. 2003. Factors affecting breeding dispersal of European ducks on Eugene Marsh, Latvia. Journal of Animal Ecology, 72: 292-307.

Cleeves, T. 2002. RSPB Handbook of British Birds. London: A & C Black Publishers Ltd.

De Leeuw, J. 1999. Food intake rates and habitat segregation of tufted duck Aythya fuligula and scaup Aythya marila exploiting zebra mussles Dreissena polymorpha. Ardea, 87: 15-31.

Dick, G. 2002. "Field Guide to Birds of North America" (On-line). Tufted Duck. Accessed February 15, 2011 at http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/420/_/Tufted_Duck.aspx.

Draulans, D. 1982. Foraging and size selection of mussles by the tufted duck Aythya fuligula. Journal of Animal Ecology, 51: 943-956.

Green, J., L. Halsey, P. Butler. 2005. To what extent is foraging behavior of aquatic birds constrained by their physiology?. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 78, 5: 766-781.

Halsey, L., S. Wallace, A. Woakes, H. Winkler, P. Butler. 2005. Tufted ducks Aytha fuligula do not control buoyancy during diving. Journal of Avian Biology, 36: 261-267.

Hill, D. 1983. Laying date, clutch size and eggs size of the mallard Anas platyrhynchos and tufted duck Aythya fuligula. IBIS, 126: 484-495.

Hill, D. 1984. Factors affecting nest success in the mallard and tufted duck. Ornis Scandinavica, 15/2: 115-122.

Mason, B. 1996. A Little Oasis: The Early History of Ashton Park West Kirby. 1 & 3 Grove Road, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead Wirral CH42 3XS: Countyvise Ltd.

Miller, G., S. Spoolman. 2008. Living in the Environment: Prinicples, Connections, and Solutions. Florence, Kentucky: Cengage Learning, Inc.

Nilsson, L. 1972. Habitat selection, food choice, and feeding baitats of diving ducks in coastal waters of South Sweden during non-breeding season. Ornis Scandinavica, 3: 55-78.

Nilsson, L. 2005. Long-term trends and changes in numbers and distribution of some wintering waterfowl species. Acta Zoologica Lituanica, 15/2: 151-157.

Nystrom, K., O. Pehrsson. 1988. Salinity as a constraint affecting food and habitat choice of muscle-feeding diving ducks. IBIS, 130: 94-110.

Oka, N., M. Yamamuro, J. Hiartsuka, H. Satoh. 1999. Habitat selection by wintering tufted ducks with special reference to their digestive organ and to possible segregation between neighboring populations. Ecological Research, 14: 303-315.

Olney, P. 1963. The food and feeding habits of tufted duck Aythya fuligula. IBIS, 105/1: 55.

Robinson, R. 2005. "Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula" (On-line). BTO looking out for birds. Accessed March 17, 2011 at http://blx1.bto.org/birdfacts/results/bob2030.htm.

Rudolfova, J., J. Sitko, P. Horak. 2002. Nasal schistosomes of wildfowl in the Czech Republic and Poland. Folia Parasitologica, 88: 1093-1095.

The Wildfowl Trust, , Slimbridge, Glos. 1963. Food and feeding habits of the tufted duck Aythya fuligulia. International Journal of Aviation and Science, 105;1: 55-62.

Winfield, I., D. Winfield. 1994. Feeding ecology of the diving ducks porchard (Aythya ferinal), tufted duck (A. fuligula), scarp (A. marila) and goldeneye (Buchephala clangula) over wintering on Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland. Freshwater Biology, 32: 467-477.