Monday, June 18, 2018

The History of Tufted Duck in St.John's, Newfoundland

The history of Tufted Duck in Newfoundland is a very interesting one. It perfectly highlights how quickly things can change in just 20-30 years. Tufted Duck, by all accounts is rare bird in North America, it is listed a code 3 species for the ABA area, meaning it occurs annually, but in very small numbers. In most places in North America, a single Tufted Duck gets people quite excited. After all it is a primarily a European species, breeding throughout temperate Eurasia and has yet to be confirmed as breeding in North America (more on that later). It is a member of the genus Aythya, which also includes the Scaup, Redhead, Canvasback,Ring-necked Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Hardhead (yes that's a real species, look it up!) and the Pochards. As, well, it's flashy, Primarily black and white, but it's head has an iridescent quality and of course the breeding plumage males have that tuft!
Tufted Duck, Adult male, Newfoundland
Tufted Duck (adult male, breeding plumage)
Adult female Tufted Duck, St.John's, Newfoundland
Tufted Duck (female)

So anyway, what's the big deal about Tufted Duck and what's so interesting about it's history in Newfoundland? In looking at eBird data for Tufted Duck the first report for the species in Newfoundland was in October, 1986. Now it's entirely possible that that there are earlier records (and there probably are), but they would have been singles here and there, they were a legitimate rarity.

Starting somewhere in the early 2000's Tufted Duck numbers in Newfoundland began to increase dramatically. The chart below, which displays the high count for Tufted Duck in St.John's between the years 2000-2018 shows the explosion in their numbers. Our Tufted Ducks usually begin to arrive in early October and numbers build over the fall, usually peaking in early winter. The numbers then remain stable until May when there is a drastic decrease.
We used to be happy if we had a handful of overwintering TUDU's. Then one year we had a dozen, then 20, then 50. The all time high was 84 this year. How much higher can it go?

The working assumption is our Tufted Ducks come from Iceland, where they breed, then migrate to Newfoundland to winter, then returning back to Iceland in Spring. That seems strange because why wouldn't they just stay and breed in Newfoundland? There is plenty of appropriate habitat and the very similar Ring-necked Duck does quite well here. However, the instinct to migrate is very strong and likely strong enough to cause they birds to make the long trip back to Iceland each Spring. Having said all of that, there is some suspicion that a few may be sticking around to breed, since we have been seeing the odd Tufted Duck X Ring-necked Duck and even some suspicious looking Tufted Duck X Scaup hybrids. It may be just a matter of time before we get our first breeding record of Tufted Duck in Newfoundland.
Tufted Duck hybrid while birding in Newfoundland
Tufted DuckX Ring-necked Duck
Note the grayish wash on the flank, which is typical of RNDU, versus the pure white flanks of TUDU. Also note the partial tuft, which of course is absent in RNGU
Tufted Duck hybrid wing pattern
Spread wing of the TUDUx RNDU. Note that the pattern of white in the wing is about mid way between what would be expect for either TUDU or RNDU

I would normally spend some time discussing the identification of Tufted Ducks and how they are best separated from similar species, however, I will discuss all of that and more in this winters Duck Identification work shop. In that workshop, you will learn everything you wanted to know, and more, about Duck identification in Newfoundland.

You can book through my website at

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good article. I enjoyed the information. I started as a birder on MUN campus. Therefore, this was my 38th lifer species. I have photographed this species many times. I also have what I believe to be shots of a TUDU X GRSC hybrid aw well as a leucistic female. Now living in Ontario, I have birder friends who would love to see this species. It is one of the only species I have seen which they have not, so it holds a special place for me on my life list. ;)

  3. That's great Greg! I'm glad you liked the article. You may some some interesting content in my other articles as well. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  4. Thank you! I was down at Quidi Vidi Lake this morning, saw quite a few tufted ducks. I'm a pretty poor birder, so I looked them up in my app, which told me they are only in Europe, Asia, etc. Whereupon I was very confused! Came home to google it and found your blog piece, and I am now much relieved to know that I wasn't inventing exotic species. ;-)


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