- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; occasionally observed during the winter months in southeastern Minnesota and in other, scattered open-water areas. The Ring-necked Duck was an uncommon species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Ring-necked Duck is a species of the northern boreal forests; its breeding distribution stretches from Alaska, south and east across Canada, south to the northern Rockies and North Dakota, and across the Great Lakes states and northern New England. Breeding densities are highest in the taiga plains of north-central Canada and in the boreal hardwood forests of southeastern Canada. Its distribution and relative abundance in southern Canada and the United States, as depicted by the federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), are shown in Figure 1.
A game species, the Ring-necked Duck has been assigned a Moderate Continental Priority by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and a Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight.
A short- to medium-distance migrant that winters in the United States, the Caribbean islands, and Mexico.
A diving duck that feeds primarily on aquatic plants and aquatic invertebrates.
A shallow bowl of aquatic vegetation placed on a wetland hummock or mat of floating vegetation.
When Roberts (1932) wrote his treatise on Minnesota birds, the Ring-necked Duck had largely disappeared as a breeding species from the state. During his own lifetime, however, he remembered when it was common not only as a breeding species but as a spring and fall migrant, particularly during fall migration, when it was so abundant “it fairly swarmed at times about its favored lakes.”
As for all waterfowl, unregulated hunting in the late 1800s and early 1900s contributed to the species’ demise. Roberts wrote at great length about the large number of Ring-necked Ducks that stopped each fall at the Long Meadow Gun Club on the Minnesota River bottoms and the large bags that were collected even by novice hunters: “Even the veriest tyro could not fail to get a good bag, shooting into big, compact, steady-flying flocks.”
Roberts described the species prior to its demise as a common summer resident throughout the state but found it to be most abundant in the eastern region. Confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs) were few and limited to counties in east-central Minnesota: Carver (1898), Hennepin (1876), Isanti (1914), and Sherburne (1917). Records appeared to be scarce in the following years, but Roberts made special note of June and July records of birds observed in the following counties from 1922 to 1929 as an indication that “it still breeds sparingly in the state”: Cook (1922), Hennepin (1927), Kittson (1928, 1929), McLeod (1929), Otter Tail (1928), and Pennington (1928).
Once the Migratory Bird Treaty was passed in 1918 and hunting regulations were enacted, the Ring-necked Duck made a steady comeback. By 1964, when Forrest Lee and other waterfowl research staff with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wrote an account of the status of waterfowl populations in the state, the Ring-necked Duck was considered the third most common nesting species in the state; the most abundant species were the Mallard followed by the Blue-winged Teal (Lee et al. 1964).
Both Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) described the bird as widely distributed across the forested and forest-prairie transition regions of the state south to Douglas and Stearns Counties in the west, and Anoka and northern Washington Counties in the east. Occasionally it also nested in counties farther south, particularly along the lower Minnesota River valley. Janssen (1987) significantly expanded the primary breeding distribution of the species by including all counties north of the Minnesota River and most counties immediately south of the river. He also identified 27 counties where nesting had been confirmed since 1970; all but 1 (Cottonwood County) were located north of the Minnesota River. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later reported confirmed nesting in 31 counties since 1970, all within the primary range identified by Janssen (1987).
To date, the Minnesota Biological Survey has reported 290 Ring-necked Duck breeding season locations; more observations were reported for only three other duck species (Mallard, Wood Duck, and Blue-winged Teal). The vast majority of observations were in the northern forested counties, stretching from Cook County in the northeast, west to Itasca, Beltrami, Clearwater, and Becker Counties. Scattered records were found in central and southern Minnesota, including several records in southwestern and south-central Minnesota. The birds were largely absent from the Twin Cities metropolitan region and southeastern Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, participants reported 820 Ring-necked Duck records from 12.5% (601/4,797) of the surveyed atlas blocks and from 11.9% (277/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 126 (2.6%) of the surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were observed in 56 of Minnesota’s 87 counties and were confirmed breeding in 29 counties; only 1 county where breeding was confirmed, Lac qui Parle, was south of the Minnesota River valley. The landcover suitability model for the species emphasizes the species’ strong affiliation with the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province (Figure 4). Suitable habitat can also be found in the Hardwood Hills Subsection, the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province, and in scattered areas throughout central and southern Minnesota.
Ring-necked Ducks were the fifth most common nesting duck reported during the atlas, preceded by the Mallard, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, and Hooded Merganser. Their distribution was similar to that described by early survey efforts; the greatest number of records was in the forested and forest-prairie transition regions of the state. The species has made an impressive comeback from its near disappearance from the state nearly 100 years ago.
Beyond Minnesota, the Ring-necked Duck began to expand its breeding range east of the Great Lakes region in the 1920s and more recently across portions of the western United States and Canada (Roy et al. 2012). Its breeding history in Ontario exemplifies the changes in eastern Canada. Although historical records are unclear, the Ring-necked Duck may have always been a breeding resident in the far northwestern region of the province, but the first documented nesting in south-central Ontario was not reported until the 1940s. By the time the province’s second atlas was conducted in 2001–2005, the species was well distributed throughout the forested regions. Factors responsible for the expansion are not entirely understood but have been attributed to (1) natural pioneering eastward of western populations, and (2) an increase in beaver populations, which create suitable wetlands for the species in extensively forested landscapes (Cadman et al. 2007).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.