Family Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)


White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala)


French: Érismature à tête blanche German: Weißkopf-Ruderente Spanish: Malvasía cabeciblanca

Anas leucocephala


, 1769,

no locality, but probably northern Italy


Relationships among Oxyura species uncertain; present species considered by some to be closely related to O. jamaicensis, but probably more closely linked to O. maccoa#R. In Spain, hybridization in the wild with O. jamaicensis (spread from introduced English population) has produced fertile progeny (viable offspring in back-crosses with both parental species); genetic diversity in expanding European population of jamaicensis found to exceed that of native Spanish leucocephala population, and, unless effective control of jamaicensis continues, genetic introgression will severely compromise the survival of O. leucocephala as a genetically and evolutionarily distinct species#R. Monotypic.


Breeds from SW Mediterranean Basin E, patchily, to extreme NW China and Mongolia; main population in S Russia and Kazakhstan. Winters in Mediterranean, Middle East and S Asia to NW India. Formerly more widespread in Mediterranean area.

Descriptive notes

43–48 cm; male 553–865 g, female 510–900 g; wingspan 62–70 cm. Medium-sized, short-necked, dumpy duck, with longish tail frequently held cocked. Male... read more


Generally silent, except during antagonostic interactions and courtship, with male giving rapid... read more


Small lakes, pools, marshes and lagoons of brackish, alkaline, eutrophic or fresh water, depth 0... read more

Food and feeding

Chiefly seeds, leaves and other green parts of aquatic plants (e.g. Hippuris vulgaris, Ruppia, Potamogeton, ... read more


Starts mainly mid May in C Asia or late Apr in W China, but Apr in Spain (where courtship commences late Mar), with broods hatching Apr... read more


Breeders in W Mediterranean area chiefly sedentary, only subject to small-scale dispersion during... read more

Status and conservation

ENDANGERED. CITES II. Previously considered Vulnerable. Overall population recently estimated by BirdLife International at 5300–8700 mature individuals (and total... read more

Recommended citation

Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 14 December 2019).