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The Ringbill

By Al Lowe

This is one of those smallducks which make up a good part of the duck hunter’s bag, along with the Scaups, Redheads and so on. They are quite widespread and, I am told, not too hard to shoot.
The female of this species is almost identical to female redheads and scaup, especially in flight. Males are described as being like ‘scaups with a black back’. Males, on the water, also have a noticeable white crescent at the very front of the wing.
The Ring-necked Duck’s head feathers are quite long, and they tend to bunch up, giving the head a sort of triangular shape. The beak of the drake is blue-grey. Near the front is a fairly big white ring, and at the base is another, smaller ring. Female has the ring at the tip but not at the base. Lots of hunters call these birds the ‘ringbills’.
The drake’s head and neck is black, with a distinct purple sheen. The neck has a ring which gives the bird its name. I have no idea why this is so, since the ring is fairly hard to see most of the time. It is rather brownish and seems to fade into the neck feathers. When it is on the water, the drake looks as though it has a black top half and a white bottom half, and that white crescent is a prominent feature.
This small duck is a bird of the marshes. It is fond of sloughs and shallow ponds. Its nest is usually built right in the water maybe 4 to 8 inches deep, and on a clump of grass or a pile of scrap vegetation. Eggs are plain brown, and run from about 6 to maybe 10 in a clutch.
The Ring-neck is fairly common all across Canada, from Alaska to the Labrador. It nests quite frequently here in Northwestern Ontario, and also in the most northern states.
It is not a very talkative bird. In fact, it rarely says anything. The drake, when he is in a courting mood, sometimes puts his head way back and makes a hooting sound, like someone blowing through a tube. This may not be very attractive to us, but apparently pleases the female. No accounting for taste! The female herself quacks and mutters away like most of the other female ducks.
The food of the Ringneck is almost all vegetable material. Ducks who live on plant material taste a lot better than those which live on fish, crayfish and other animal food. This one is pretty good eating.
They don’t go around in great big flocks, and they tend to frequent small ponds and marshy areas. In the winter, they go somewhere near the seashore, but not really right at it. They will usually be gone from most of Canada by the first part of November.
So that is the story of the Ring-neck Duck (Aythra vcollaris). In the fall, they will hang around with other similar ducks - the Redheads, Scaup and so on. Look for a ‘Scaup with a black back’ and with a prominent white ring around its beak. Don’t bother looking for that one around its neck.