Status: Common, locally abundant, regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Accidental breeder Cherry Co. Rare casual summer visitor statewide. Uncommon regular winter visitor west, south, and east, rare casual elsewhere.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM12460, 2 Apr 1909 Cass Co.
Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized.
An intriguing report was of an apparent hybrid at Offutt Base Lake, Sarpy Co 30 Mar 2018; its identification was uncertain, but it was likely a mix of Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup, or, based on its contrasting black and white appearance, Tufted Duck and Lesser Scaup, although the bird did have a pale area on its bill suggestive of Ring-necked Duck.
Changes Since 2000: Increasing occurrence of mostly males in the Rainwater Basin late Jun-early Aug is suggestive of an establishing molt migration location. This species is rare anywhere in Nebraska in summer other than in the Rainwater Basin.
Spring: winter <<<>>> Jun 7, 7, 8
The earliest arrivals are coincident with the spring thaw; probable migrants were 12 on 30 Jan 2010 at Kearney, 12 at Boystown Lake, Douglas Co 1 Feb 2012, and 11 on 30 Jan 2016 at Lake Wanahoo, Saunders Co. Migration peaks during late Mar and early Apr, but small numbers occur into May. See Summer for later Jun reports.
- High counts: 2200 in the eastern Rainwater Basin 31 Mar 2001, 1450 at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co on 5 Apr 1994, 1000 at Valentine NWR, Cherry Co 29 Apr 2019, and 872 at North Platte NWR, Scotts Bluff Co on 14 Apr 1995.
Summer: There is only one recent breeding record for the state, although it was once (before 1920) a “regular historic nester” in the Sandhills (Ducey 1988). This statement appears to be based on Oberholser and McAtee (1920), who listed the species as “breeding” in June 1915 but gave no details. Today, a breeding occurrence in Nebraska would be considered extra-limital; the nearest regular breeding is currently in far northeast South Dakota (Tallman et al 2002). Thus, surprisingly, the first modern Nebraska breeding record was of a hen and brood photographed on a wetland at NNF McKelvie, Cherry Co 16 Sep 2019 (Greg Wright, personal communicaton; photo).
Reports from locations that might be expected to host nesting birds are essentially non-existent since 2000. The only western Sandhills reports since 2000 are of one at Avocet WMA, Grant Co 4 Jul 2013, one on 17 Aug 2017 southeast of Lakeside in northern Garden Co, and five on 21 Aug 2017 at Crescent Lake NWR. Crescent Lake NWR had six reports in the 1980s and 1990s, one was at Oshkosh SL, Garden Co 24 Jul-12 Aug 1984 (Rosche 1994), there are four reports from McPherson Co, and one in Sheridan Co, 17 Aug 1996.
In years of abundant water, summering birds occur at various locations, but primarliy in northeast Cherry Co and the Rainwater Basin; these birds are likely to be one-year-old non-breeders resulting from late broods the prior year and delayed sexual maturity. These birds would seem unlikely to be molt migrants as males and unsuccessful females depart breeding locations by 15 Jul to molt in small groups in remote parts of the breeding range (Baldassarre 2014). Nevertheless, most Rainwater Basin reports are of males, suggestive that a few from the relatively close Minnesota breeding range might molt in Nebraska. A surprising influx in 2005 saw a total of six males at four Rainwater Basin locations, including three at Deep Well WMA, Hamilton Co, 11 Jun-17 Jul and, in 2015, four were reported at various locations in the Rainwater Basin 27 Jun-7 Jul. A large influx occurred in 2019, with four reports of 12 birds in northeast Cherry Co and five reports of 18 birds in the Rainwater Basin. Additional Rainwater Basin records are: two on 14 Jun 2008, a male at North Hultine Basin, Clay Co 15 Jun 2002 (Jorgensen 2012), single males at Kissinger WPA, Clay Co and Sinninger WPA, York Co 16 Jun 2001 (Jorgensen 2012), Seward Co 3 Jul 2013, Seward Co 9 Jul 2011, 14 Jul 2018 Butler Co, and a male at Moger WPA, Clay Co, 22 Jul 2007.
The Lake McConaughy area, Keith Co may occasionally host molting males; one was at Lake Ogallala 13 Jun 2002, another on 7-12 Jun 2003, and 1-4 from 22 Jun-29 Jul 2006. The only Panhandle records are of one that may have summered at North Platte NWR in 1994, when two were noted 14 Jun and 10 Sep; one was reported in Scotts Bluff Co 10 Jun 1991 and two were at Scottsbluff SL 16 Jun 2019.
There are few summer reports away from apparent suitable breeding habitat: 9 Jun 2011 near Fremont, Dodge Co, 11 Jun 2011 in Omaha, 20 Jun 2003 Lancaster Co, 28 Jun 2019 Brown Co, 4 Aug 1990 Polk Co, 4 Aug 2006 Alma SL, Harlan Co 15 Aug 1980, and 17 Aug 1981 Douglas-Sarpy Cos.
Fall: Sep 7, 7, 9 <<<>>> winter
Fall movement becomes evident during late Sep, peaking generally in Oct. An early report was of 2-3 at Bittern’s Call WMA, Dawson Co 29 Aug-12 Sep, and one was in McPherson Co 3 Sep 2002. Good numbers often remain on larger lakes and reservoirs well into Dec; 120 were in Scotts Bluff Co 30 Dec 2005 and 310 were at Lake Ogallala 30-31 Dec.
- High counts: 2100 at Crescent Lake NWR 27 Sep 1995, 1228 at North Platte NWR on 10 Sep 1994, and 779 at Lake McConaughy 31 Oct.
Winter: Overwintering occurs at locations favored by other diving ducks, such as Scottsbluff SL, Scotts Bluff Co, Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala, Harlan Co Reservoir, and, more recently, Carter Lake, Omaha. Best count at Scottsbluff SL is 29 on 23 Jan 2015; at Lake Ogallala 94 wintered 1999-2000, 15 wintered at Harlan Co Reservoir 1999-2000, and up to 35 at Carter Lake 2013-2014 and again in 2014-2015. Up to eight wintered at Boystown Lake, Douglas Co 2008-2009 and up to four overwintered at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park, Madison Co 2019-2020. Fewest winter reports are mid-late Jan.
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SL: Sewage Lagoons
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Waterfowl Management Area (State)
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)
Photograph (top) of Ring-necked Ducks at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co, on 29 Mar 2009 by Phil Swanson.
Baldassarre, G. 2014. Ducks, geese, and swans of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Oberholser, H.C., and W.L. McAtee. 1920. Waterfowl and their food plants in the sandhill region of Nebraska. US Dept Agriculture Bull. 794: 1-94.
Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska. Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.
Tallman, D.A., Swanson, D.L., and J.S. Palmer. 2002. Birds of South Dakota. Midstates/Quality Quick Print, Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online