Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula)

French: Fuligule morillon
SizeWingspan: 65 – 72 cm
Length: 40 – 47 cm

The tufted duck is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) in the UK. Protected under the European Birds Directive 1979.

Tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula) are, indeed, tufted, although the drake has a more prominent crest than the female (duck). The specific scientific name, fuligula may derive from the Latin word fuligo meaning soot, and drakes have glossy black plumage on their head, breast and back. In contrast, the side and belly have a conspicuous white band but despite this distinctive uniform, tufted ducks can be mistaken for other species such as scaup (Aythya marila) and the vagrant ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) from North America. Like the tufted duck, these birds also have a grey bill with a black tip. To add to the confusion, tufted ducks are known to hybridise with both these species, leading to offspring that can resemble both parents at a distance. Female tufted ducks are much less showy than the males, being dark brown with slightly paler sides. They also have a black tip to the bill and this distinguishes them from juvenile birds, also dull brown with paler sides but lacking that bill tip mark.

Tufted ducks range across nearly all of Europe and the UK and there are resident breeding populations in Britain, northern France, Germany and Poland. Migrant populations extend well into Scandinavia, Russia and across Siberia to China.

There are few bodies of open water which do not contain a population of tufted ducks. They can be found on large lakes, flooded gravel pits and even city park lakes provided there are islands on which they can nest.

Tufted ducks belong to the group known as diving ducks, and feed mainly on water animals. Their diet includes crustaceans, small molluscs such as snails, and insect larvae. They will search for these prey items amongst submerged water weed, under stones and other sunken objects.

As with most species of ducks, drake tufted ducks play no part in the incubation of the eggs or the rearing of the young ducklings. The nest is constructed in thick cover, preferably on an island out of reach of many predators. As well as using available materials, the duck will line the nest with down from her own breast. Incubation begins once the clutch is complete, which for tufted ducks is usually between 8 and 11 eggs. After about 25 days, the eggs all hatch within a 24 hour period. Young ducklings quickly learn who their mother is, and will then follow her everywhere. They leave the nest quite soon after the last egg has hatched and will find food for themselves whilst the parent acts as a guardian. Once the young ducklings have fledged their first true feathers, after about 50 days, they become independent.

The tufted duck is a reasonably common species in the UK, with a breeding population thought to number around 8000 pairs. Wintering birds increase this figure to nearly 70,000 individuals and, across Europe and Russia, numbers may be as high as one million.

Tufted ducks enjoy general protection in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended). However, they can be shot between 1 September and 31 January during the wildfowling season. Of the main over wintering sites in the UK, by far the biggest are Lough Neagh and Lough Beg in Northern Ireland. The bird is listed as a Species of Conservation Importance under UK legislation, and is also a Species of European Conservation Concern.

For more information on the tufted duck and other bird species:

Information supplied by English Nature.


  1.  IUCN Red List (March, 2011)