Western European populations of red-crested pochard (Netta rufina) are characterized by low size and high fragmentation, which accentuate their sensitivity to hunting. Uncertainties regarding the demographic trends of these populations highlight the need for pertinent hunting regulations. This requires identification of the limits of the populations under exploitation, i.e. delimiting a management unit. We used the left domain of the mitochondrial control region and seven nuclear loci (four microsatellites and three introns) to assess the level of genetic structure and demographic independence between the fragmented Western European and the large Central Asian populations. The second objective was to investigate the colonization history of the Western European populations. This study demonstrated that the Western European populations of red-crested pochard constitute a separate demographic conservation unit relative to the Asian population as a result of very low female dispersal (mitochondrial DNA: ΦST = 0.152). A morphometric analysis further suggested that Central Asian and Western European specimens of both sexes originate from different pools of individuals. Male dispersal seems higher than female dispersal, as suggested by the lack of clear genetic structure for the nuclear markers at this continental scale. Genetic data, in conjunction with historical demographic data, indicate that the current Western European populations probably originate from a recent colonization from Central Asia. As numbers of red-crested pochards in Western Europe cannot be efficiently supplemented by immigration from the larger Asian populations, a management plan regulating the harvest in Western Europe is required.