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< >  Oxyura leucocephala - White-headed duck (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

White-headed stifftail
Weißkopf-Ruderente (German)
Weisskopf-Ruderente (German)
Ruderente (German)
Erismature à tête blanche (French)
Malvasía cabeciblanca (Spanish)
Pato de cabeza blanca (Spanish)
Malvasía (Spanish)
Witkopeend (Dutch)
Kopparand (Swedish)

Names for newly-hatched

Duckling, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases

Eclipse (winter).

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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1,B2, B3, B6, B8, B19, B25, B26

Aviculture references:
B29, B30, B40, B94, B129
D1, D8

Other References

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General information:
  • Stiff-tails are generally hardy. They are extremely aquatic and do best on large ponds of variable depth, with clean, deep water and plenty of natural food available in the form of marginal aquatic plants, while a muddy pond bottom will provide food items such as tubifex worms. Duckweed and small-sized seeds such as millet and canary seed mixtures are preferred to conventional waterfowl feeds, although wheat and pellets will be taken if natural food is scarce, for example in hard winter weather. Ample marginal vegetation (e.g. rushes, sedge, juncus reed) should be available for general cover and for nesting, with nesting rafts also provided.
  • Most species are sociable and do best in groups rather than as a single pair; males will fight, but usually for only a short period, some degree of pursuit and rape of ducks is also likely. They can be very aggressive in nest site defence, therefore in mixed collections they should be kept on a water area sufficiently large for other ducks to escape.
  • Stiff-tail ducklings should preferably be reared with access to water from e.g. two days old, with sufficient depth for diving provided even at an early age, although enforced drying off periods between short swims may be advisable initially. Duckweed is a useful starter food for these species, although attached daphnia and water snails may carry parasites.

(J23.13.w8, B29, B30, B40, B94).

Species-specific information:

  • White-headed ducks are not difficult to maintain in captivity; they should be provided with deep water.
  • This species is difficult to breed. They will nest in ground-level boxes or use a raft or an old coot nest. Lay eggs usually April to June.
  • Difficult to hand-rear, may be parent rearered on matute ponds.

(B29, B44.9.w1, B129, D1).

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average closed ring size: J 9.0mm (D8).

Management Techniques

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 18 inches 46cm (B3); 43-48cm (B1)
Adult weight General 510-820g (B1)
Male 558-865g average 737g (B); mean 1.6 lb. (B8)
Female 539-631g average 593g (B3); mean 1.5 lb. (B8)
Newly-hatched weight --
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Blue with bulging base.
Variations (If present) Grey with bulging base.
Eyes (Iris) Male Yellow to orange-yellow.
Variations(If present) Female iris light yellow.
Juvenile Bill Grey with bulging base.
Eyes (Iris) Light brown, yellow-brown or pale grey.

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Adult Male Grey.
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Grey.

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Adult Male Head white, with black centre of crown, neck blackish.

Lower neck, breast, body reddish brown, shading to grey-buff on central abdomen and undertail coverts, and greyish on scapulars and uppertail coverts.

Tail black.

Wing grey-brown.

Variations (If present) Female: sides of head and throat buff-white, crown to eye level, and through to hindneck dark brown, dark brown stripe below eye from bill to nape.

Lower neck and underparts reddish brown with darker barring, central abdomen and undertail coverts buff-white.

Upperparts grey-brown with darker barring.

Winter male: Face has more dark markings. Body grey-brown rather than red-brown.

Juvenile Duller and paler than female; males may have redder upperparts.

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts dark brown, underparts white. White line below eye with black line ventral to this then greyish throat and sides of neck. Pale patch on breast and small spot on wing.
Bill: Grey.
Feet: Grey.

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Mainly begins May.
No. of Clutches --

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Nest placement and structure

On the ground or over water in thick vegetation, stems and leaves woven in reeds. Often uses old nests of other species.

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 5-8 (B1)
Range 5-10 (B1, B8)
Egg Description White. Size: 66 x 50 mm (B3).

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22-24 days (B1); 23-26 days (B8).

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60-70 days (B1); 58-70 days (B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males --
Females --

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Mainly dive to feeding, but also dabble on surface.
Newly-hatched Diving from one day old.

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building Solitary nests.
Incubation By female alone.
Newly-hatched Tended by female alone. Brooded on the nest and closely tended for in the first weeks.

Females may leave the brood before the ducklings fledge.

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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Males defend territories and possibly mates in the breeding season. Congregate in large numbers on suitable lakes in winter.
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

Pair bonds are fragile and short-lived; may be polygamous.

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Predation in Wild


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Activity Patterns

Congregate on waters to roost during the day and at night. Can stay under water for long periods, travelling more than 30m.
Circadian Forage mainly at night.

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Natural Diet


Mainly aquatic plants: seeds and green parts; also invertebrates (insects, molluscs, crustaceans)

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal South-western Mediterranean basin to extreme north-western China; main population southern region of former USSR

Oriental population migrates to sites in south Caspian Sea, Middle East, Pakistan, occasionally north-western India. Mediterranean population is sedentary.

Occasional and Accidental




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Arid country, in pools, small lakes, marshes and brackish lagoons bordered with thick vegetation.

Outside the breeding season use larger lagoons, saline lakes and sea shores.

Prefers shallow areas less than 1m deep.

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Vulnerable. Numbers decreasing.

CITES listing CITES II (B1)
Red-data book listing Endangered. (B44.9.w1)
Threats Loss of habitat, hunting and (particularly for the Spanish population) hybridisation with the ruddy duck Oxyura jamaicensis - Ruddy duck (B1, B8, B44.9.w1).

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Captive Populations

Not uncommon, but scarce in America (B8).

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