Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Redhead - Aythya americana

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5B

Agency Status


External Links

General Description
Medium-sized diving duck. Adult male in breeding plumage has rufous head and neck, black breast, gray body, black hindquarters, yellowish eye, and blue-gray bill with black tip and white subterminal band. Non-breeding male resembles female, but with reddish-brown head and yellowish eye. Female, at all times, is entirely plain brownish with whitish belly, grayish secondaries, whitish chin and eye-ring, dark eye, and bill similar to male (Woodin and Michot 2002).

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 2261

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

In the Bozeman area, migration occurs from March 28 to May 20 and from September 15 to November 15, with peaks on April 20 and October 15. Dates for the Libby area are about 1 month later (Skaar 1969).

Habitat generalist; opportunistic in use of wetlands (Woodin and Michot 2002). In Flathead valley, small, shallow potholes with dense emergent vegetation is preferred for nesting. Comments on habitat can be found in Holm (1984). In the Bozeman area, they are confined to lakes and ponds at all seasons (Skaar 1969).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Vegetative parts and tubers of submerged aquatic plants; seeds, achenes and oogonia of muskgrass; and aquatic invertebrates. Highly adaptable in matching feeding tactics to available foods and environmental conditions: diving, tipping, dipping or gleaning foods from water surface, depending mostly on water depth (Woodin and Michot 2002).

The sex ratio of the breeding population was 122:100, male to female. Home ranges were all less than 2600 feet. The main cause of nest failure was desertion (26%), then mammalian predation (21.7%); skunk predation was the main cause at Freezeout Lake.

Reproductive Characteristics
Overwater nests constructed in relatively tall, dense emergent vegetation of deeper semipermanent and permanent marshes. About 1/2 of nests possess cupolas, and about 2/3 have ramp constructed of vegetation extending from rim of nest to water surface. Elliptical to subelliptical eggs; usually creamy white to pale, olive buff, smooth and glossy. Clutch size (of an unparasitized nest) is 7 to 8 eggs (Woodin and Michot 2002). In the Flathead valley, nest dates were late April to July and the success rate was 15.2%. Broods move to nearby potholes or Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge after hatching. At Freezeout Lake the average clutch size of successful nests was 8.1.

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
    • Woodin, Marc C., and Thomas C. Michot. 2002. Redhead (Aythya americana). Species Account Number 695. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1977, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1977. Proj. 164-85-A. December 31, 1977.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Annual wildllife report of the Colstrip Area for 1978. Proj. 195-85-A. April 6, 1979.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Annual wildllife report of the Colstrip Area for 1979, including a special raptor research study. Proj. 216-85-A. March 1, 1980.
    • ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Area B four-section wildlife report. August 3, 1979.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1975. Waterfowl of North America. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Joyner, D.E. 1976. Effects of interspecific nest parasitism by Redheads and Ruddy Ducks. J. Wildl. Manage. 40(1): 33-38.
    • Lambing, John H., et al., 1994, Physical, chemical, and biological data for detailed study of the Sun River Irrigation Project, Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area, and Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, west-central Montana, 1990-92, with selected data for 1987-89. May 1994. Open-file report 94-120.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Wigeon Reservoir, Alzada, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.028. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II.
    • Lenard, S.J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Lokemoen, I. T. 1966. Ecology of the redhead duck in western Montana. J. WildI. Manage. 30:668-681.
    • Lokemoen, J. 1962. The productivity of the red-head (AYTHYA AMERICANA). M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 120 pp.
    • Lokemoen, J.T. 1966. Breeding ecology of the Redhead duck in western Montana. J. Wildl. Manage. 30 (4): 668-681.
    • Maxon, S.J. and M.R. Riggs. 1996. Habitat use and nest success of overwater nesting ducks in westcentral Minnesota. J. Wildl. Manage. 60(1): 108-119.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Palawski, D.U., et al., 1991, Contaminant biomonitoring at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 1988.
    • Palmer, R.S. 1962. Handbook of North American birds. Volume 1. Loons through flamingos. Yale University Press, New Haven. 567 pp.
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • Skaar, P. D. 1975. Montana bird distribution: preliminary mapping by latilong. P. D. Skaar, Pub., Bozeman, MT.
    • Stewart, R.E. and H.A. Kantrud. 1973. Ecological distributions of breeding waterfowl populations in North Dakota. J. Wildl. Manage. 37(1): 39-50.
    • Stewart, R.E. and H.A. Kantrud. 1974. Breeding waterfowl populations in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota. Condor 76: 70-79.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
    • Weller, M.W. 1964. Distribution and migration of the Redhead. J. Wildl. Manage. 28(1): 64-103.
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1980, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1980.
    • Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1981, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1981.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH)., 2001, Wildlife Monitoring Absaloka Mine Area Annual Report, 2000. Montana SMP 85005. OSMP Montana 0007E. February 2001.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Redhead"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Redhead — Aythya americana.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 27, 2016, from