Let’s face it. When you are talking about ducks to an Arkansas duck hunter, you are referring to mallard drakes, greenheads. Anything else, and the hunter’s reaction is apt to be a slightly curled upper lip.
Yes, there are other ducks, the diehard mallard folks will admit. They call ‘em “scrap ducks” among other labels. But there are lots and lots of these other ducks in Arkansas, and sometimes they can turn a mallard-deprived hunt into some fun and avoid a shutout.
Ring-necked ducks fall into this category.
They are found all over Arkansas but more in the traditional duck areas of the state. They are smaller than mallards — maybe two-thirds the body size and they are not as colorful as mallard drakes. But they are not drab either.
According to Ducks Unlimited, “Male ring-necked ducks have an iridescent black head, neck, breast and upper parts. The belly and flanks are whitish to grayish, with a distinctive triangular white wedge extending upward in the area in front of the folded wing. The bill is slate with a white border around the base and nares (nostrils), and a white band behind the black tip.”
Female ring-necks have a brownish hue. Both males and females have distinctive squarish peaks on the back of their heads.
Where is this ring-neck? It’s hard to see except close up with a bird in hand. The ring is just a faint brown ring around the base of the neck. Ring-billed ducks would be a more accurate name.
Ring-necks often are found in small groups, and they may be a little less skittish than battle-wise mallards. They often fly close to the ground or water and not high overhead. But they decoy fairly well, coming in to spreads of imitation mallards within hunters’ shooting ranges.
Ring-necks are dabbling ducks – like mallards. They dip under the surface of the water for food but do not dive deep. Their food is also similar to mallards — wetland weeds, seeds and grasses, wild rice and also crustaceans and insects.
They spend the warmer parts of the year in breeding grounds of forested Canada and the northern United States. In contrast to mallards, ring-necks tend to use ponds in wooded areas instead of prairie country potholes.
In Arkansas, ring-necks arrive, as a rule, in November and December and head back north in late February and March. They may show up in small waters, farm ponds and beaver ponds, in Arkansas.
In hunting situations, ring-necks often surprise water fowlers. The hunters may be in blinds looking skyward or hugged up against a concealing tree and also looking up. Then a handful of ring-neck ducks come zipping past about four feet off the water’s surface — in and out and gone before the hunter can get a shotgun into position for a shot.
Dressed out, ring-necks are good table fare for those who like duck and for others who can tolerate it. The Arkansas purist will tell you nothing can match a mallard for eating quality. In reality, ring-necks are close. They do eat the same things that mallards eat, and this means they don’t have the slightly fishing taste that many diving ducks do.
Ring-necked duck populations are in good shape on the North American continent. The daily limit for hunting is six compared to the mallard limit of four.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.