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White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala)


White-headed duck description






GenusOxyura (1)


The white-headed duck is one of Europe’s rarest birds (4). The name of the genus ‘Oxyura’, means pointed tail, while leucocephala means white-headed. It is actually the males that have a white head, with a black cap. They also have a distinctive blue bill which is swollen at the base (2). Females have a pale face with a cheek-stripe, a dark cap, and a blackish, less swollen bill. Both males and females are chestnut-brown, with short, black webbed feet. These ducks are usually quiet but, when displaying, low rattling noises are produced (2).






Length: 43 - 48 cm (2)


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Related species


Maccoa duck (Oxyura maccoa)

Maccoa duck

(Oxyura maccoa)

Velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca)

Velvet scoter

(Melanitta fusca)

Kerguelen pintail (Anas eatoni)

Kerguelen pintail

(Anas eatoni)



White-headed duck biology


During the winter the white-headed duck forms large flocks which feed together on insect larvae and submerged plant material and seeds. They dive continuously, staying underwater for around forty seconds at a time. In late winter they moult and are rendered flightless. Once re-feathered they begin the migration to their breeding grounds in late February (6). At the breeding grounds they break up into small groups to find suitable nesting sites (7). The white-headed duck is polygamous and nests in reed beds, sometimes on top of abandoned coot (Fulica atra) nests. Between four and nine eggs are laid and incubated for 22 to 24 days. Eight to nine weeks after hatching, the young fledge (5). Unusually for ducks, the adults moult twice each year, once in winter and again after breeding. Once this is complete, both young and adults migrate back to the wintering grounds (7).


White-headed duck range


The white-headed duck has a wide range and occurs in Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Mongolia. Its status in China is unclear. It is found on passage in winter months in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, central Asia and the Indian subcontinent (2).


White-headed duck habitat


Inhabits wetlands that are composed of freshwater or alkaline eutrophic lakes, with plenty of vegetation (2). The body form of the white-headed duck makes it more dependent on water than other duck species, as it is awkward on land (5).



White-headed duck status


Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3)

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Taken on March 30, 2014