Living Bird Magazine
Ruddy DuckOxyura jamaicensis
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
Ruddy Ducks are compact, thick-necked waterfowl with seemingly oversized tails that they habitually hold upright. Breeding males are almost cartoonishly bold, with a sky-blue bill, shining white cheek patch, and gleaming chestnut body. They court females by beating their bill against their neck hard enough to create a swirl of bubbles in the water. This widespread duck breeds mostly in the prairie pothole region of North America and winters in wetlands throughout the U.S. and Mexico.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Ruddy Ducks from fall through spring on open water, both inland and in protected coastal areas such as harbors and small bays. During the day, they often sleep with their heads tucked, and they gather in tight flocks. Because of this, these little divers often look like gray-brown or chestnut blobs with a long, rounded tail (for a duck, anyway) held up at an angle. In summer, look for them swimming and diving in wetlands of the prairie pothole region and the interior West. The male’s white cheek patch is often distinctive from great distances.
- Malvasía Canela (Spanish)
- Érismature rousse (French)
- Cool Facts
- 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.
- The bright colors and odd behavior of male Ruddy Ducks drew attention from early naturalists, though they didn’t pull any punches. One 1926 account states, “Its intimate habits, its stupidity, its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself…. Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.”
- 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.
- Though Ruddy Ducks are native to the Americas, one population became established in England after captive ducks escaped in 1952. This population grew to about 3,500 individuals by 1992, and now appears to be expanding into the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Spain.
- Ruddy Ducks 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.”
- The oldest Ruddy Duck on record was a male and at least 13 years, 7 months old. He was banded in British Columbia and 1951 and found in Oregon in 1964.