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The Very Unique Ruddy Duck

Updated on December 4, 2012
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Strictly a North American, the Ruddy Duck is a very unique bird. The male is easily identified, the only duck that carries an erect tail. Also a rare thing, this is the only male duck that will help raise ducklings. Not only that, he has distinct plumage for both summer and winter and has a bright, sky blue bill. The female also has her own characteristics. She is relatively silent for a female, and the male is pretty quiet, himself. Try that on for size!

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Description

This is a small, fan-tailed duck. The male generally carries the long tail feathers fanned out and erect at an angle, very similar to a strutting turkey. He also doesn’t sport eclipse plumage, but has two very different suits, one for fall and winter and the other for breeding. The best known if the breeding plumage. The lower part of the male’s head, breast, flanks, breast, back, and throat are a stellar, rufous red. He also has a wide white cheek and the top of his head is black. The top of the wings is dark brown, as well as the tail. Under the tail and under the wings are white, and his white belly has brown and black bars.

The male’s winter plumage is just like his better half. His red summer plumage is dark brown, the wings are darker brown, the bill is a dull dark blue, and the cheek patch turns sooty white.

The female never seems to fan or erect her long tail feathers. Her long bill is turned up and is dark blue. The crown is dark brown, and her cheeks and throat are dull white. The cheek patch has a brown splash. The flanks, belly and chest are dark brown with white mottling. The wings and tail are a darker brown.

Nesting and Breeding Ways

The male struts while he swims around, just like a tom turkey. He puffs out his breast feathers, and fans out his tail, which is brought forward. He raises the feathered horns on his head, as he approaches the female. He inclines the bill forward until it touches his breast, pumping his head up and down. This forces the air from his tracheal sac, thereby producing a clucking sound.

Male rivalry is strong. If an intruder arrives, the original male widely opens his bill, puffs out his feathers, extends his neck, and quickly engages in battle or chases away the unwanted third wheel. Sometimes the two males battle under water, a churning and frenzied pecking fight. The victor returns to the female, the original male in most cases. He turns away from her to display his white underbelly for her.

During nesting season, the female wants to hide among the rushes and weeds. She will fasten her weaved nest of rush and reed stalks . She makes a ramp to her elevated nest, which will allow her to slide in and out of it quietly and quickly.

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Eggs and the Young

The clutch is about 9 eggs, and they are exceptionally large for this small duck. It takes the female about a month to incubate. Even though the male doesn’t help with this, he is still in the general vicinity and does help raise the ducklings. The young will instinctively dive if there is a threat in the area, and they are in the water very soon after hatching.

Ruddy Ducks Taking to the Air
Ruddy Ducks Taking to the Air | Source

Flight

It is nearly two months before the young fledge and are able to fly. These ducks run along the surface of the water to gain momentum before taking off to gain enough speed. Their feet are wildly flaying and the wings are beating madly before they take to the air, which is a rather humorous sight.

Migration

Spring migration generally begins around early March, and by May, the birds are on their breeding ground. Fall migration begins in September and finishes up in about a month. These ducks will fly at night, in early morning, or late in the evening during migration.

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Habits

The feet are so far back on the ruddy’s body, that it has a difficult time walking. When it is rarely on land, its stiff tail is used to support and brace the body. The duck will hitch forward by moving both feet at the same time. This is natural movement, as these ducks also swim in the same fashion.

Flying is a final resort to these ducks. When threatened, they prefer to dive to hide under vegetation. They can swim underwater for quite a period of time and are excellent divers and swimmers. Sometimes like grebes, these ducks will just quietly sink out of sight.

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Food

About 70 percent of the Ruddy Ducks diet is vegetable matter. The remaining protein is mostly insects and their larvae, but they also will eat small mollusks and crustaceans.

Enemies

The biggest problem is the crow, as they like eggs. Turtles and large fish will take the little ones. Eagles, hawks, and owls try to feed on the adults, which is why they stay near dense vegetation. Accidents, parasites, and disease round out the rest of the problems.

The ruddy is only wary and shy during nesting season, but not during the rest of the year.

Ruddy Female
Ruddy Female | Source

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Michael! I love the name of the pub, but the name is a mystery, UNLESS someone was in the US or heard about the Ruddy Duck.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 4 years ago

      Hi Deb,

      This was a very interesting read. I was a little surprised to find that the Ruddy Duck was restricted to North America, as there is a pub in the next village called... you guessed it. The Ruddy Duck. How weird.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Let me know if you see any of them. Do you ever photograph your birds?

    • profile image

      ignugent17 4 years ago

      Thanks for introducing Ruddy ducks. I would try to check the ducks that stops in our pond.

      Voted up and interesting. :-)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      There are so many gorgeous birds out there, precy anza. I heard that the TX coast off the gulf sometimes gets birds from Central America.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Good idea, Suhail. You just never know what you're going to miss.

    • precy anza profile image

      precy anza 4 years ago from San Diego

      Beautiful! This reminds of of those ducks I saw a few times when we go for a walk on the trail. That was back in my uncle's place years ago when we are new here. Reading this hub reminds me of how this ducks made me smile and feel excited just because of their beautiful colors! ^-^' Voted up and shared!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Yes that is right. While I can carry my DSLR and its gear only on select occasions, I have resolved to carry my point and shoot all the time lol.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Oh, believe me, Suhail, I understand. While walking to a friends house to do my computer work, a red-tail was on reeds in the wind about 12 feet from me. It would have been the best picture of a red-tail that I ever got, but I was carrying a computer...

      Bring your camera when you can if you want those shots.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Aviannovice,

      There are a number of those Goshawhs and Ospreys nesting on Toronto buildings and I see them all the time, but I am never carrying my camera when I see them.

      I always carry my camera when I am walking my dog through Meadowvale Conservation Area near my home, but guess what. Last Sunday, when my dog and I watched an owl being harassed by a group of crows and blue jays, I had deliberately decided to leave my camera home.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      M, you can sure say that they are unique. I wouldn't eat a bird if my life depended upon it.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, frogy, that is sure a great compliment!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Connie, they really don't seem to want to come on land.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Brenda. Yes, these ARE wonderful ducks, and I consider myself so fortunate to have them in my area.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, kashmir. This is truly an exciting bird that has a lot of interesting things going for it.

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      wished to see more of these unique creatures. we only have here few ducks and birds. most ducks here are breed for food.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 4 years ago from Central United States of America

      Came from your Bufflehead ducks here to read more interesting information. Fun to learn a bit about these charming creatures from your expertise. Now I'm going back to read your recipe about fruitcake - I DO love fruitcake.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Hi Deb! I always learn so much from your articles. This is one of the prettiest birds I think I've ever seen! I love that beautiful blue bill, the reddish feathers and that straight tail. I wonder why Mother Nature would set its legs and feet back so far and make it struggle on land?

      Voted Up and Interesting.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      These guys are so sweet. I have a fondness for ducks anyway. I love your Boomer Lake.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great and interesting hub that was so fascinating and informative !

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Highland Terrier! Thanks for the kind words. There are so many great birds out there!

    • profile image

      highland terrier 4 years ago

      I love it ,an absolutely lovely duck. Thank you again for the photos and the info. I'd never heard of the ruddy duck and had some one said there was a duck with a bright blue bill, I'd have sent for the men in white coats.

      Brilliant job ,Thanks

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Jim, that would be great. I'm rather interested to learn what this duck might be.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Thanks, Deb! My paricular book does not show them with a very blue bill. I will have to take it with me to the ponds and compare tail attitudes too I guess. (IF the rain ever stops)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Jim, the Greater and Lesser Scaups have blue bills, too.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Thanks Deb! This is really good info on a beautiful little duck. I was checking my Oregon Birds book and I am likely to see them here in my area only in migration. But it does not show other ducks with blue bills, so maybe that was what I say in the ponds.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thank YOU, bumpsysmum. I'm glad that you are able to witness these amazing ducks for yourself.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Why, certainly, Martin. This is most likely one of the top most amazing birds that I am acquainted with.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Oh, I understand, Suhail. I adore ALL birds, even the common ones. They will always do something to surprise and amaze, if given the chance. When I was in Wilmington, DE, the falcon would nest on buildings, just like the Red-Tailed Hawks do in the large cities. Birds have to adapt their environments, as there is just too much taking of natural habitat by humanity.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You are so welcome, Nell. They are sweet little ducks, too. Right now they are the brown-reddish color. When they are ready to breed, they look like another type of duck. The metamorphosis is amazing.

    • Bumpsysmum profile image

      Bumpsysmum 4 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Interesting and informative, ducks are one of my favourites although I love all birds immensely.

      I am absolutely against hunting. Killing for food is one thing, but I'm sorry I believe that killing for fun is sick. I even have reservations about fishing but that's another Hub!

      We do have Ruddy Ducks in UK now, due to escapees from private collections years ago, and I have seen them on our local conservation area which used to be a quarry, it's now a series of large lakes and ponds and the variety of waterfowl is fantastic. We visit it often and use the hides to watch their antics, it's very relaxing.

      Thanks again for a well written piece.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I'm not sure if is the duck or your details of it which is more fascinating. Thank you

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Beautiful hub on an even more beautiful bird. Now I have yet one more reason to keep my eyes open when I am hiking with my dog along water bodies.

      Btw, I like all birds. My experience with ravens, especially one that my children and I observed on top of Grandfather Mountain near Boone, NC, has been truly awesome. But I do have special admiration for cranes and falcons.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Fascinating look at the Ruddy Duck, I just love that name. they are beautiful ducks and the blue beak is lovely, really interesting read thanks, nell

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, whonu. Every time I see a bird, my heart leaps and I smile. Perhaps I once was a bird of some kind.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I am not a hunter either, Billy, nor do I advocate it. I would rather go hungry than eat a bird. I just hope that whomever kills these ducks, eats them instead of taking them to the taxidermist.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

      Such a wonderful blending of color, the beautiful Ruddy Ducks. Thank you for sharing these great photos and wonderful information,whonu.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have never been a hunter. I have never understood the mentality to tell you the truth. I have had friends who hunted ducks, and I have seen them come home with their kill, and I would look at these beautiful ducks and wonder what the point of it all is. Sigh!

      Great pics and information, Deb!

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      No, I don't. I have actually never seen one on land myself, as it is so rare.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

      Truly beautiful ducks, and so easily identifiable from what you describe. I didn't realize their feet were so far back. Sounds like grebes. Now I'm dying to see their odd locomotion on land. You wouldn't have a video, would you?

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