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The Very Unique Ruddy Duck
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!
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.
- Ruddy duck courtship - YouTube
Male ruddy ducks vying for the attention of one female. The vibrant blue of the bill and use of the stiff tail are unmistakeable. Filmed with Canon's XH A1
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are your favorite birds?
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.
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.