Sunday, 17 December 2017

Tufted Duck in Mississauga

Yesterday morning while participating in the South Peel Christmas Bird Count (CBC), Luc Fazio discovered a male Tufted Duck with a large flock of Greater Scaup, on Lake Ontario offshore Lorne Park Estates in Mississauga, an area which is private and not accessible to the public. Luc sent the word out to a few people in the hopes that the bird would move up or down the shoreline, becoming accessible for the many people eager to see such a rare bird for these parts.

At the time, I was slowly cruising along some side roads near Port Colborne, searching for sparrows, longspurs or whatever else would be coming to the exposed grasses along the road edge, after the 25+ cm of snow we had received in the last week had covered the open fields where these birds are normally found. I was having fun and finding decent numbers of sparrows after an hour of searching when my phone rang and I was informed by Jeremy Bensette about the Tufted Duck. Never one to back out of an opportunity for a new bird for my Ontario list I turned my car around and pointed it in the general direction of Mississauga.

Upon arriving in Mississauga, another phone call (this one from David Pryor) let me know that Cheryl Edgecombe had just seen the bird off of Ben Machree Park, located a few km east of where Luc originally found the bird. I searched the Lake Ontario shoreline with several intrepid birders, including Garth Riley, Nancy McPherson, David Pryor, Richard Poort, Mourad Jabra and John Lamey, but the duck refused to show itself. According to Cheryl's Ontbirds post, the scaup flock had been flushed by a few Great Black-backed Gulls. Evidently, the Tufted Duck had vacated the area as we couldn't dig it out of the big scaup flock despite scanning through the birds over and over. 

As the time ticked by I decided to widen my search radius since I needed to be back home by 5:00 PM. Eventually I returned to Ben Machree Park, where I ran into several other birders including Jeremy Bensette, Iain Fleming and Alfred Adamo. We had been scanning through the scaups for only a few minutes when our phones started ringing - Nancy and Garth had just re-found the bird, a few km further east of here!

We quickly sped over to the area and set up our scopes, soaking in the rare visitor to the Mississauga lakefront. The Tufted Duck was surprisingly difficult to pick out in the diving duck flock due to the distance, large number of scaup, and bright sunlight causing extensive glare. By relocating to a closer parkette, the views were a little better; sufficient enough for distant "record shots". 

Tufted Duck (top) - Mississauga, Peel Region, Ontario

While the bird appeared to be in the process of molting in its long tuft and only a couple of long feathers were present, it showed all the features of a classic male Tufted Duck. Compared to the nearby Greater Scaup, the Tufted Duck was slightly smaller with a jet black back and clean white sides with sharp points at the top front end of the flanks and a very wide black nail on the bill. Tufted Ducks molt their tuft in October to December according to Sibley, so this appears to be right in line with their regular molt schedule. 

Tufted Duck (top) - Mississauga, Peel Region, Ontario

Tufted Duck used to be a more frequent visitor to the province and if accepted by the OBRC, this would mark the 31st accepted record for the province. Nineteen of these records are from between the years 1992 and 1999, while there have been only six records in the last eighteen years. In the time that I have been birding only three Tufted Ducks have been reported in the province. These include a male at Sault Ste Marie from 8-15 May 2008 (found by Robert D. Knudsen), a male at Wolfe Island on 18 November 2009 (Brandon R. Holden, Jonathan S. Pleizier), and a female at Ottawa from 20-23 October 2012 (Bruce M. Di Labio, Ben F. Di Labio, William von Herff). 

Tufted Duck - Mississauga, Peel Region, Ontario

While the vast majority of Tufted Duck records in the province come from the western end of Lake Ontario, this is the first record for Peel Region as far as I can tell. Thanks to Luc Fazio for such a great find!! Now that CBC season is in full swing, maybe another rarity or two will be discovered in the province. 


  1. Awesome, what a great bird!!

  2. Sounds fun! Congrats on your new Ontario bird, I'm sure they're pretty hard to come by now for you ;)
    I'm going to go check it out tomorrow, it seems likely that it's still in the area. Any tips? I have fairly limited experience with this species, only a one time, very close-up views of several birds in Newfoundland. Is the Scaup flock fairly far out?
    Thanks, Ethan.

    1. Thanks! Luc Fazio posted some good tips on searching for this bird in a recent ontbirds post:

      The actual bird itself is pretty easy to pick out - that black back really stands out. The scaup flock was within 100m of shore when I stopped by.
      Good luck!

    2. Thanks for the info! It was coincidentally refound a few minutes after I posted this. Therefore I had no trouble with it this morning, as well as seeing the hybrid! Probably one of my more interesting (and successful) twitches.
      Thanks again!