A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Ruddy Ducks are small diving ducks with stiff, fan-shaped tails that they hold cocked up at a steep angle. They have relatively short, thick necks and enormous webbed feet that are rarely seen out of the water.
Males are distinctive in their breeding plumage, with rich chestnut plumage covering most of their body. At this time, they have a black cap, a large white patch on either side of the face, and a bright blue bill. Outside of the breeding season, males have much duller gray-brown plumage and a dark gray bill.
Females Ruddy Ducks are duller than their male counterparts, with mottled gray-brown plumage. They have a dark brown cap and a pale cheek with a dark horizontal line through it. Juveniles of both sexes look similar to the adult female.
Male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage
Female Ruddy Duck
The Ruddy Duck is a small waterfowl species. Males are generally larger than females, although there is some overlap.
Males have a total length between 14½ to 17 inches (37 - 43 cm), while most females measure 13¾ - 16 inches (35 - 41 cm).
Ruddy Ducks have a wide weight range, with the largest specimens approaching two pounds. They have an average weight of about 1¼ pounds but vary between 11 and 30 ounces (300 - 850g).
Ruddy Ducks have a wingspan of 22 to 24 inches or 56 to 62 centimeters.
Ruddy Duck flapping his wings
The Ruddy Duck is generally silent, although males utter a brief croaking call during their courtship display. Females call in alarm when pursued by males or grunt to communicate with their ducklings.
Ruddy Duck calling
Ruddy Ducks eat some plant material, although they are primarily carnivorous. These birds feed by straining bottom sediment through their bills and filtering out small organisms like midge larvae, crustaceans, and zooplankton.
Baby Ruddy Ducks (ducklings) feed themselves without any assistance from their parents. They eat the same foods as adults.
Ruddy Duck feeding on the reservoir
Ruddy Ducks inhabit various fresh and estuarine water bodies. They breed on deeper freshwater wetlands, reservoirs, and ponds. However, they occupy a greater variety of habitats during migration and the non-breeding season, including coastal marshes and estuaries.
The Ruddy Duck has an extensive but patchy distribution in North America, from Eastern Alaska in the north to Central America and the Caribbean. They are non-native but present in many European countries and have also spread to Morrocco and Tunisia in North Africa.
Locally, Ruddy Ducks occur in most of the Lower 48 states, although they only pass through much of the Northeast and Midwest on migration. They overwinter along the West and East Coasts and across the south from the Southwest to Florida. The Prairie Pothole region of the West and Midwest, the Southwest, and the Great Lakes Region are important breeding areas.
Ruddy Ducks spend almost all of their time on the water. In fact, these diving ducks are so clumsy on land that they can barely walk! They can fly strongly, although they struggle to get airborne.
Ruddy Ducks are common in North America, although their migratory habits cause their numbers to fluctuate through the states and seasons.
Female Ruddy Duck on the pond swimming
Ruddy Ducks are widespread in North America. The largest concentrations occur during the breeding season in South and North Dakota, Southwestern Manitoba, and neighboring states and provinces on either side of the USA/Canada border.
Ruddy Ducks are a controversial bird in the United Kingdom. They are very rare in the wild after a largely successful eradication program that began in 2005, and birdwatchers are encouraged to report sightings.
Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage
Ruddy Ducks can live for over thirteen years, although their average life expectancy is much shorter.
Ruddy Ducks are vulnerable to predators at all stages of their lives. Eggs and chicks may be taken by mammals like raccoons and mink and by birds like crows and gulls. Adults are hunted by birds of prey like Red-tailed Hawks, Great-horned Owls, and even cooper’s Hawks. Humans also hunt these waterfowl.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects Ruddy Ducks in North America, although regulated hunting is legal. They do not enjoy protection in the United Kingdom and Europe, where they are considered invasive and a threat to the native White-headed Duck that breeds in Spain.
Ruddy Ducks are not endangered, although their world population is thought to be decreasing. They are assessed as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List.
Ruddy Duck during courtship display
Most Ruddy Ducks nest in the Prairie Pothole Region of Southwestern Canada and the American Midwest. The female builds a nest just above the water among wetland vegetation like cat tails. The nest is a cup of dry or fresh vegetation, often hidden from above by a roof of woven vegetation.
Ruddy Ducks first arrive on their breeding grounds between late March and late April. Pairs form soon after and build their nests about a month later. Depending on latitude, eggs are laid between late April and late June and hatch after about 23 days.
Ruddy Ducks lay anything from three to thirteen white eggs, each measuring 56 to 72 millimeters long and 41 to 50 millimeters wide.
Ruddy Ducks do not mate for life. They may form pairs that last a single season, change partners within a season, or form polygynous relationships where one male mates with several females.
Ruddy Duck male (right) and female (left)
Ruddy Ducks are aggressive little waterfowl. The males are particularly belligerent in the breeding season when they will even chase other waterbirds and small animals. They use display and posturing to drive off rivals, but this frequently escalates into chases and physical conflict out on the water.
Ruddy Ducks rarely leave the water. They sleep out in the open water, floating, with their bill tucked under their shoulder feathers for warmth. They will move to a sheltered position near the bank or behind an island in bad weather.
Ruddy Duck sleeping on open water
Ruddy Ducks are highly migratory over most of their North American range, although southern populations in the Caribbean, Mexico, and New Mexico are resident. Most of the population breeds in the Prairie Pothole region and overwinters in coastal areas at lower latitudes.
Ruddy Ducks embark on their spring migration between February and May and return to overwintering sites between August and December.
Ruddy Ducks are a native species in North America.
Ruddy Ducks are not native to the United Kingdom. They escaped captivity in the 1950s and quickly established themselves, eventually crossing to continental Europe and spreading to more than 20 other countries.
Female Ruddy Duck in-flight
Only the male Ruddy Duck develops a bright blue bill, and then only during the breeding season. His colorful bill and plumage are a display of his fitness and are used to impress potential mates.
The Ruddy Duck’s common name is not particularly inclusive across the species. Ruddy means reddish, which is a good description of the male’s rusty breeding plumage.
Ruddy Ducks fly chiefly at night and dive rather than flush, making them unpopular targets among waterfowl hunters. However, they are certainly edible and were once quite popular for their meat.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
35cm to 43cm
56cm to 62cm
300g to 850g
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