Hen Redhead With White Feathers On Her Face

White-headed Variant Or Progressive Graying?

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Female Redhead with white on her head, Salt Lake County, UtahFemale Redhead with white on her head – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Over the years that I have spent time photographing at my local pond I have seen a few odd ducks including hen Redheads with white feathers on their faces where they should be a soft brown and they pique my interest every time I view them through my lens. Three days ago I spotted another of the female Redheads with lots of white feathers on her face from a distance and took a few photos of her primarily for documentation purposes but then I found I actually liked this photo even though the duck is small in the frame. I like her pose, the light and the setting a lot.

I’ve looked into white-faced Redhead females and Sibley’s Guide to Birds (Second edition, page 26) shows what he calls a “White-headed variant” female Redhead that looks close to what this duck looks like although his illustration shows more white than this hen.

I also found a web site that shows three images of variant female Redheads with white of their faces and their sources say the white on their heads may be caused by drake Redheads pinching the heads of females during copulation. That theory seems a bit far fetched to me because it would seem that we’d see far more white-headed female Redheads in the field than we do if that were the case, but I’m just a bird photographer not an expert in Redhead plumage. In my experiences in the field I don’t see these white-headed Redhead variants all that often.

Hen Redhead with white on her head, Salt Lake County, UtahHen Redhead with white on her head – Nikon D500, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

BNA on line does mention this about female Redheads:

Many females, especially older birds, show white feathers on head region, especially at rear of crown and nape

Reading that information brought to my mind articles I have read on Progressive Graying and then I wondered if it is possible that some female Redheads get grayer with age. I have more questions than answers about this topic.

I really don’t know why some female Redheads have so much white on their faces but I do find these birds fascinating and I enjoy wondering about the origin of those white feathers.

The photo above was taken on January 7, 2018 at the same pond as the first photo just after a drake Redhead displayed for this hen. Could they be the same hen Red-head? I’m not sure but I guess that it could be possible. One thing is for certain though,  I do hope that one day I will be able to have one of the white-headed Redhead hens come close enough to me to take portraits of their unusual plumage.

Life is good.

Happy Thanksgiving!



  1. Laura November 22, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Beautiful photos. I have never heard of redhead before. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. April Olson November 22, 2018 at 9:50 am

    I don’t know about the cause of white feathers. I have seen white feathers on the head and face of our old Japanese quail as he is aging. We had a house sparrow who had white feathers from an injury. As she aged to 10 years she had white feathers around her eyes and beak. I have a friend who has a variety of ducks, next time I see him I will ask his opinion about ducks graying.

    Happy Thanksgiving Mia.

  3. Marty K November 22, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Interesting variant! I identify with a graying-with-age duck more and more these days. 😉

    Hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

  4. Laura Ganz November 22, 2018 at 8:52 am

    Wonderful capture, Mia! Happy Thanksgiving.

  5. Trudy Brooks November 22, 2018 at 8:38 am

    This is another new Duck for me. Different colors and pattern. Happy Thanksgiving to you and family.

  6. Nikonsteve November 22, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Happy Thanksgiving Mia…she looks like a wise old duck to me…Thanks for sharing..

  7. Larry Jordan November 22, 2018 at 8:03 am

    Happy Thanksgiving Mia! My bet goes to the female being elderly. Also according to BNA online, Redheads can live to be 21 years old! You have to expect some graying at that age 😉

  8. Liz Cormack November 22, 2018 at 7:13 am

    Graying with age sounds more likely than being nipped during copulation. Happy Thanksgiving from Canada!

  9. Tim Derry November 22, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Happy Thanksgiving to you Mia

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