Vagrant White-headed Duck!

First winter in the Netherlands

Sad but true! One of the birds I most wanted to see was a White-headed Duck. So part of Monday 13th Feb saw Nils, me and Sander Bot heading to a wildfowl hotspot. What a place! Don’t know the name of the lake but it was covered in wildfowl. Thousands of Wigeon and Gadwall, 10’s of Smew and much more. Pretty soon Sander picked up an adult Goshawk– stood on the ICE! Wow, very cool as it picked at some poor duck corpse. In flight it caused havoc amoung the ducks. See photo below.

Fantastic numbers of wildfowl:


adult Goshawk. So cool to see and a more common Dutch experience than for me in the U.K. I saw a juvenile Goshawk at Katwijk the next day with Rene and Frank

Took us a while and long walk but we finally found the White-headed Duck with a couple of Ruddy Duck nearby (c6 Ruddy’s on the lake).

What a bill! 1st winter White-headed Duck, Netherlands, 13th Feb 2012. Nils tells me it’s a first winter- best told by spikier tail feathers and duller body plumage.  That face pattern with very narrow white strip below eye can’t be an adult female pattern me thinks. Does the head pattern have any information which suggests if it’s more likely to be a female of a male? I suppose if the head turns blacker it would be  black- headed male from central Asia!

The BIG Question – vagrant or escape?

Keith Vinicombe has written v helpfully about this subject in his chapter in ‘Frontiers of Birding’ – of course we could get birds from S Europe/ N. Africa. However there is another possibility. This Dutch bird turned up in November- the kind of time when birds from further e.g. Central Asia, travel west to winter. Why not vagrant White-headed Duck from such as Kazakhstan where there is a much larger population. Lots of our winter wildfowl in western Europe come from around Central Asia.

A Good Question to ask…

When you watch dabbling and diving duck on your local reservoirs etc- do you know which species may have come to winter there from e.g. Kazakhstan? It’s worth thinking about. You might be surprised! Anyone care to compile a list? I will kick it off with Pochard. Known for individual to winter in the Sea of Japan one winter and the same bird to winter in Britain the next week.

Nils and MG- very happy with good views of 1st winter White-headed Duck.

Nice bit of video with some behaviours including a flash of unringed leg. ‘ave it!

Unexpectedly a drake Smew swam past (background), suitable evidence of the Smewfest going on!



3 Velvet Scoter swam near the White-headed Duck, 2 first winter males and a first winter female.

2 Velvet Scoters in this video clip.


This adult Grey Heron was stunning but sadly a little too approachable- we saw a number dead, presumable due to starvation in the freezing conditions

Great White Egrets are everywhere, seemingly in the Netherlands these days. A roost of nearly 1000 birds were gathering at one location in the south of the country. Incredible!

2 thoughts on “Vagrant White-headed Duck!

Leave a Reply