Friday, April 30, 2010

Ruddy Duck--Oxyura jamaicensis

Male Ruddy Duck in Breeding Plumage at Mason Regional Park . A resident species of Orange County, California.

This is one of my favorite ducks. It is a resident of Orange County California and in fact to North and South America. The tell-tale sign of a raft of sleeping Ruddy Ducks are the stiff tails that jut out of the water. It is only in breeding season in Spring and Summer that the male Ruddy Duck sports a blue bill. At other times, it has a dark, brown bill.

Male Ruddy Duck in non-breeding plumage at Mason Regional Park.

The Ruddy Duck's plumage is also changes with the seasons. While the breeding plumage of the male Ruddy Duck is chestnut brown, it fades to a nondescript brown retaining the dark black cap and white cheek.  The bill becomes dark brown.

Female Ruddy Duck at at Mason Regional Park swimming with her tail down.

The smaller female Ruddy Duck has dark brown plumage and a whitish cheek with a streak from the bill toward the back of the head. 

Ruddy Duck (breeding plumage) in typical sleeping posture. You can see why it is classed with the "stiff-tailed duck" family. Note the ruddy color of the back and sides.   This is where the Ruddy Duck gets its name.

Ruddy Ducks eat aquatic seeds and vegetation.   They also eat small fish crustaceans, and aquatic insect larvae. 

What you often see when you find Ruddy Ducks.  A raft of Ruddy Ducks.

The challenging thing about getting a good look at a Ruddy Duck is that it keeps disappearing below the surface of the water to get those aquatic plants and animals.   Ruddy Ducks are diving ducks.  They don't dabble on the surface like Northern Shovelers, Mallards, or American Wigeons.  They dive and resurface a minute or so later in a different spot.   Just when you think you have it in view, it disappears.  They are much more likely to dive away than fly away.  Their legs which are set farther back on their bodies than Mallards, help to make them strong swimmers, but clumsy when it comes to walking on the land. 

Male Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Ducks can be found in the Americas.  From North America to South America, Ruddy ducks can be found. in coastal bays, freshwater marshes, natural and man-made lakes, and even ponds.   

Male Ruddy Duck with his bill almost all blue.   He is almost done changing into his breeding plumage.

Though they can be found in both salt and fresh water, they breed only in fresh water.  They are silent except when the Ruddy Duck drake is courting.  He makes some strange unduck like pops and whirrs.  The male puts on quite a show that can go on for hours. 
Male Ruddy Duck almost entirely in his breeding plumage.

 The nest is well hidden.  The female lays eggs in her own nest and other nests she finds in the area.  She doesn't care if they are Ruddy Duck nests or not, she lays eggs in whatever nest strikes her fancy.  Her eggs are the largest compared to body size of any duck in North America.  She is lucky if the male stays through the nesting phase.  Even then he does little to help.  They breed in June through the early part of July. 

Male Ruddy Duck

While we love to see the Ruddy Duck and enjoy this native species presence, it has been introduced in Europe where it is an alien species. Its hybridization with its already threatened European cousin, the White-headed Duck, has caused concern across the pond.  Ruddy Ducks are pretty much despised in Europe and they are attempting to save their own related native White-headed Duck by killing the invasive Ruddy Duck.  They have much the same attitude as many here have regarding the European Starling which was introduced in the 1800s and threatens many of our native birds by its aggression.

"A massive cull of ruddy ducks is about to begin in Europe in an effort to save Spain's white-headed duck. The ruddy duck, a native of North America, is now interbreeding with its close relative. Conservationists say the white-headed duck will soon be wiped out if drastic action isn't taken to stop the sexually precocious invader." National Geographic: Humans Are Driving Birds to Extinction, Group Warns

Ruddy Duck at Mason Regional Park in Irvine, California from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

But back at home where he belongs, the Ruddy duck is a part of the habitat and a joy to behold.  Birds should be left where they have created a niche in their native habitat.

So when you are out in the OC, enjoy our native Ruddy Duck in its native habitat--Orange County, California.

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Ruddy Ducks

The Birds of North America Online

This service is by subscription only,  but they have some previews.  Very good information.

A hunters' organization. Very much conservationists. Good article.  Also see their article on Ruddy Duck courtship.

A European view of the Ruddy Duck which is an invasive species there.

Bird Life: White-headed Duck

The European cousin of the Ruddy Duck that has been endangered by loss of habitat, hunting, and hunter's lead shot, pollution, habitat disturbance, and hybridization with our Ruddy Duck which was introduced in Europe.

Where can you see Ruddy Ducks?

Ruddy ducks can be seen at fresh water lakes, ponds, and at estuaries.  Try these locations:

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