How many people have a favourite duck? Growing up there was one always enjoyed seeing, even as it seemed to become more common. It’s our Bird of the Week today, the Tufted Duck.
There was always something I found charismatic about ‘Tufties’. As they increasingly appeared in rural and suburban settings they had a little more class and elegance than the larger, more aggressive mallards.
The male, at least in his spring prime, has that perfect contrast between jet-black around the head, chest, back and tail, then that snow white flank. The ‘tuft’ of head feathers that gives the name draws your attention, and it’s at this point you realise the colour isn’t really black. Like so many birds it’s actually an iridescent green-purple when the light is right. In the middle of it all, a tiny bright yellow eye gazing out.
Even the females are more visually interesting than they first appear, not least in that slatey blue-grey, almost metallic sheened, bill.
Things can get a little confusing during winter moults were the sides and back can appear a grubby brown, making them possible to mistake for Scaup. But generally the two are easily distinguished.
Unlike the ‘dabbling’ mallards, tufties are diving ducks and they will plop under the water briefly to grab aquatic insects and crustaceans.