Ruddy Duck

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Common Name: Ruddy Duck
Scientific Name: Oxyura jamaicensis

Size: 13.8-16.9 inches (35-43 cm); Wingspan: 22-24.4 inches (56-62 cm

Habitat: The Americas; breed in wetlands and reservoirs from southwestern Canada through the western United States and Mexico, as well as in scattered sites in the eastern United States and on the Caribbean islands. About 86 percent of the breeding population is concentrated in the prairie pothole region of south-central Canada and north-central United States. Their breeding habitat includes large marshes, stock ponds, reservoirs, and deep natural basins. Migrating Ruddy Ducks stop in a variety of habitats, most often on large, permanent wetlands, lakes, and reservoirs, frequently mixing with other diving ducks such as Bufflehead and Goldeneyes.

They spend the winter throughout the southern half of the breeding range, also moving into wintering habitat that spans most of the United States and extends through Mexico to Central America. Their wintering habitat includes freshwater wetlands, lakes, and reservoirs as well as brackish bays, coastal marshes, and tidal estuaries.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 520,000-600,000 mature individuals. Ruddy Duck populations are decreasing. Though they were hunted during the 1890s (and numbers declined during that time), they are not popular with hunters today. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service records about 50,000 Ruddy Ducks shot by hunters each year. Like all waterfowl, Ruddy Ducks are susceptible to poor water quality, pollution, and oil spills. The population in Chesapeake Bay dropped significantly between 1955 and 1979, probably because of habitat degradation from exotic species invasion and pollution. Ruddy Ducks depend heavily on wetlands in the prairie pothole region of North America, where grazing, burning, and wetland drainage have degraded portions of their habitat. Their future success will depend in large part on the protection and restoration of that region.

Diet: Aquatic invertebrates, especially midge larvae. They forage mostly by diving to the bottom of shallow ponds, straining mouthfuls of mud through thin plates on their bills and swallowing the prey items that are left behind. They feed most actively at night. During the day, they sleep.

Nesting: Male Ruddy Ducks have blackish caps that contrast with bright white cheeks. In summer, they have rich chestnut bodies with bright blue bills. In winter, they are dull gray-brown above and paler below with dull gray bills.

Females and first-year males are brownish, somewhat like winter males but with a blurry stripe across the pale cheek patch. In flight, Ruddy Ducks show solidly dark tops of the wings.

They nest in marshes adjacent to lakes and ponds, primarily in the Prairie Potholes region. The nest is usually made of dead, dry plant materials, though some are built entirely with green vegetation. It starts as a platform and becomes more bowl-like throughout the construction process, with an inner cup measuring 4–12 inches across and 0.5–5 inches deep. Ruddy Ducks usually weave a canopy of vegetation over their nests. The nest is usually placed 2–10 inches over the water in cattails, bulrushes, or grasses, the nest is supported and well-concealed by vegetation. The female chooses the site.

Ruddy Ducks lay big, white, pebbly-textured eggs—the largest of all duck eggs relative to body size. Energetically expensive to produce, the eggs hatch into well-developed ducklings that require only a short period of care.

Cool Facts: Pleistocene fossils of Ruddy Ducks, at least 11,000 years old, have been unearthed in Oregon, California, Virginia, Florida, and Illinois.

Ruddy Ducks are very aggressive toward each other and toward other species, especially during the breeding season. They are even known to chase rabbits feeding on the shore. They get harassed by Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, and American Coots during the breeding season. The grebes sometimes attack Ruddy Ducks from below the water, a behavior known as “submarining.”

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume II: Diving and Sea Ducks

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