Several bird species carry the “red-headed” moniker, but only one is just called Redhead, and that’s a duck. And what a glorious redhead it is.
Most of the lakes in the Twin Cities area (yes, I’m back in Minnesota now) have at least a thin coating of ice, but the big St. Paul reservoir at Lake Vadnais is still completely open — and that’s great for finding some late migrating ducks.
Are these females just being social, or do they think Redhead males are more attractive than Ring-necked males? Do ducks make “mistakes” when choosing partners during the breeding season? Yes, they do, and there are many examples of both inter-specific (different species, but same genus) as well as inter-generic (different genus, same family) breeding pairs, and lots of hybrids produced as a result.
Redheads, Canvasbacks, Pochards, Scaup, and Ring-necked Ducks are members of a genus (Aythya) of very closely related species, with many documented cases of hybridization between species breeding in the same wetlands areas. In fact, their physical similarities often make it challenging to tell them apart from a distance (e.g., Redheads looks like Canvasbacks; Scaup look like Ring-necked Ducks)
Of course, associating with other species during the non-breeding season doesn’t mean they will necessarily form inter-species pairs in the spring, but as my former ornithology professor was fond of quoting — “a male duck will mate with just about anything”…