Ruddy Duck (All Details About This Invasive Species)

Ruddy Duck (All Details About This Invasive Species)

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) is a small, stout waterbird that is native to the Americas. It’s known for its compact build and thick neck.

One of the most striking features of Ruddy Duck is its seemingly oversized tail, a trait that’s unique to this duck species. Habitually, these ducks hold their tails upright.

Breeding season transforms the male Ruddy Ducks into a vibrant display of bold and bright colors. Females, on the other hand, keep a more low-key profile with plain colors.

The Ruddy Duck’s habitat is as diverse as its color palette. From permanent freshwater marshes, lakes, and ponds during the breeding season, to shallow marshes and coastal bays in the winter.

What’s interesting about this duck species is its agility in water. A master diver, it navigates water with ease. But don’t be fooled. On land, it’s a different story. Due to the position of their legs on their body, these ducks are quite clumsy walkers.

One more fact to note is that Ruddy Ducks are monotypic. In other words, no subspecies of Ruddy Ducks are recognized.

Appearance and Behavior of Ruddy Ducks

Ruddy Ducks are quite the sight, especially during the changing seasons. As winter rolls in, their vibrant colors fade into a rather dull gray-brown above and a paler shade below.

Their bills, a striking feature, also lose their luster and become a grayish hue. The females and first-year males share a resemblance with winter males, but they’re lighter in color.

On the flip side, the breeding season brings out a dazzling transformation in the male Ruddy Ducks. Their bodies turn into a bright chestnut, heads topped with black caps, cheeks gleaming white, and bills a shade of vivid blue. In stark contrast, female Ruddy Ducks and young ones lack the chestnut hue and sport a dark line across the face.

Moving on to the behavior, the Ruddy Ducks are known for their aggressive nature. This aggression isn’t just limited to their own kind but extends to other species as well. It’s more prominent during the breeding season when the stakes are high. The Ruddy Ducks are water-loving birds, spending most of their time swimming and diving to forage for food.

Though they’re quick fliers, Ruddy Ducks aren’t the best when it comes to maneuvering mid-air. Faced with threats, they’d rather swim and dive than take flight. The list of their predators is long, including the Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, mink, raccoons, and red foxes.

The courtship period of the Ruddy Ducks is a spectacle in itself. The males perform an elaborate display, complete with a call to woo the females. These calls are a series of sounds like chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chur-r-r, ip-ip-ip-ip-u-cluck, tick, tick, tick, tickety, quo-ack, and chica, chica, chica, chica, quak.

Habitat and Distribution of Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Ducks are versatile and adaptive, able to inhabit a variety of environments. Their breeding grounds are typically freshwater ponds, lakes, and wetlands with emergent vegetation like cattails and grasses. They favor areas with extensive marshy borders and open water. In Texas, you’ll find them in freshwater ponds lined with emergent vegetation.

Winter sees these birds in a different setting. They move to salt bays, estuaries, and protected shallow waters along the coast. They also don’t shy away from ice-free lakes and ponds in the interior, even those with little or no marshy border.

When it comes to distribution, Ruddy Ducks have a broad reach. The core of their breeding distribution is in the Prairie Potholes of the northern Great Plains. This region stretches from central Canada south through much of the western United States and northern Mexico. A whopping 86% of the breeding population calls this prairie pothole region home.

These ducks are also migratory. They are short- to medium-distance migrants with northern populations wintering in the central and southern United States and in Mexico. There are also year-round residents in the Caribbean islands, Mexico, and parts of the western United States.

Their migration patterns are seasonal. They migrate in fall and spring and favor open water, both inland and in protected coastal areas like harbors and small bays. In Texas, they make their appearance as early as August 8 and are most present from October to April.

Interestingly, Ruddy Ducks have also spread their wings beyond the Americas. After some captive ducks escaped in 1952, a population was established in England. This group has grown to about 3500 individuals by 1992 and is now expanding into the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Spain.

Feeding Habits of Ruddy Duck

Ruddy ducks are omnivores with a diet that’s quite varied. They’re adept at diving and use their wide bills to nab food from the water. Once they’ve got their catch, they sift through it all, selecting only the morsels they want.

You’ll find them chowing down on:

  • Plant seeds,
  • Leaves of aquatic plants,
  • Crustaceans,
  • Midge larvae and pupae,
  • Insects and their larvae (mainly in summer), and
  • Aquatic vegetation.

Swimming is their forte and they spend most of their waking hours in the water. For Ruddy Ducks, land is a place visited mostly during the nesting period. Active mainly at night, these ducks are fond of a good day’s sleep, often in tight flocks. If they feel threatened, their first instinct is to dive. If that’s not possible, they’ll seek out dense aquatic vegetation to hide in.

Reproduction and Nesting of Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Ducks are known for their unique breeding habits. Their breeding season falls between May and August. Unlike other species, Ruddy Ducks form pairs only on reaching the breeding grounds each year. A fascinating fact about Ruddy Duck pairs is their late bonding.

The creation of nests is the sole responsibility of the female Ruddy Ducks. They build nests just above water level, usually among the past year’s vegetation. Fallen marsh plants and other plant matter comprise the nest’s construction material. Each nest has a woven roof for protection. If waters rise, the female adds more material to prevent submersion.

Egg-laying in Ruddy Ducks is an intriguing process. Females lay between 7 and 9 large eggs, dull white or buff in color. These eggs, measuring approximately 2.4 inches and weighing around 2.6 ounces, are the largest among all duck eggs in relation to body size.

The incubation period for these eggs ranges from 23 to 26 days. The female Ruddy Duck takes up the task of incubating the eggs. After hatching, the young are precocial, displaying impressive diving skills and aggressive behavior. They can even feed themselves. Parent ducks guide them from the nest and abandon the brood 20 to 30 days post-hatching. The fledgling stage is reached 50 to 55 days after hatching.

Ruddy Ducks prefer to breed in wetlands, reservoirs, and deep natural basins. Their breeding habitats include large marshes and stock ponds. They favor freshwater lakes with fringing vegetation for nesting. This preference for diverse habitats showcases the adaptability of Ruddy Ducks.

Conservation Status and Threats of Ruddy Duck

Despite the Ruddy Duck’s adaptability and broad distribution, it’s facing a few tough challenges. The good news is, at present, their conservation status paints a less dire picture, with a ranking of Low Concern. But don’t let this fool you. The population of these waterbirds isn’t as thriving as it once was.

Historical data shows a glaring drop in their numbers. Unrestricted shooting in the early 20th century played a major role in this decline. Add to that the loss of nesting habitat, and you’ve got a species in trouble.

Then there’s the issue of hybridization with the white-headed duck in Europe. This has triggered culling efforts to protect the latter, an endangered species, further threatening the Ruddy Duck’s population.

To make matters worse, Ruddy Ducks are suffering from the ill effects of poor water quality, pollution, and oil spills. Remember, these birds are highly dependent on wetlands. So, any harm to these habitats hits them hard.

While these threats may seem daunting, understanding and addressing them is the key to ensuring the survival of the Ruddy Ducks.

Culinary and Cultural Significance of Ruddy Duck

Beyond their ecological roles, Ruddy Ducks carry weight in both culinary and cultural spheres. In the past, Ruddy Duck meat was a beloved delicacy featured in numerous cookbooks from the 1800s to 1918. This popularity dwindled over time, possibly due to its likeness to other fish-eating ducks like mergansers or goldeneyes.

Yet, they’re still appreciated by some for their unique taste. The diet of Ruddy Ducks, mainly aquatic invertebrates and plants, impacts their flavor. As true diver ducks, their menu includes clams, fish, and other sea creatures. This can lend a distinctive, albeit sometimes intense, taste to their meat. However, keep in mind that the taste can swing based on the individual duck and its feeding habits.

On the cultural front, Ruddy Ducks have long fascinated naturalists with their vibrant colors and peculiar behavior. They’re known for their one-of-a-kind nesting customs and courtship displays, often seen as comical.

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