In the photograph in the slider above the male Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) is swimming alone, but most likely has a female mate for the spring. The ducks usually arrive in Montana in mid-April so this duck has just completed its migration from southern North America. He will stay with his mate throughout incubation, but he spends the entire time guarding the nest area and never on the nest with the female. During this time, they spend so much time apart, that their mating bond begins to break down and they will find new mates next spring.
A male Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) was also seen swimming on the same pond as the Ringneck. While the Ringnecked Duck mentioned above will nest in the tall grasses, the Bufflehead prefers to nest in old woodpecker holes or tree cavities. Their small size allow the female to squeeze into holes as small as 2.25 inches in diameter. Also different from the Ring-necked Duck is that Buffleheads are fairly monogamous. They will keep the same mate for several years and may even nest in the same tree during those mating seasons.
On the right: The mother Ringneck Duck and ducklings can be seen resting on the log structure and swimming around the pond.
The Ring-necked Ducks were probably crossing from the pond to a more marshy area. They are not cavity nesters like the Wood Duck (Aixsponsa) and the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). They build their nests in dense emergent vegetation along the edge of permanent water bodies. The female selects the nest area a week or two before she begins laying, but doesn’t start building the nest until the laying has begun. She also pulls down from her breast like the Hooded Merganser to help incubate the eggs. The female will lay an average of nine eggs although the one pictured above appeared to have ten goslings following her. She incubated the eggs forapproximately 26 days and the young were able to leave the nest within 24 hours after hatching. They may return to the nest site for two to four days to be brooded at night. She will remain with her young for 49-56 days, teaching them to care for themselves, although they can already dive for food 48 hours after birth.