Ruddy Duck: The Ultimate Guide

The ruddy duck is a tiny, stocky diving duck found in freshwater. In fact, the ruddy duck is one of the smallest species of duck. It has broad, short wings and a stiff, stubby tail. They can swim with their tails cocked up, which makes them more buoyant, and they can also sink slowly without diving.

  • Scientific name: Oxyura jamaicensis (The word “Oxus,” means “sharp,” and “oura,” means “tail,” “jamaicensis,” means “from Jamaica”)
  • Length: 340–430 mm (13.5–17 in)
  • Weight: 560 g (1.23 lb)
  • Wingspan: 470 mm (18.5 in)

Sadly, due to the government-led eradication program, the number of ruddy ducks in the United Kingdom has dropped to as low as below 100 birds.

Key Identification

Typically, duck species have just one or two distinguishing features. However, ruddy ducks are so odd that you can’t help but notice them. This type of bird has a considerably different appearance between the sexes. They also undergo physical transformations as they mature and the seasons shift.

Ruddy Duck image 1
Ruddy Duck image 1

The male can often be recognized from far away because to the white patch on his cheek. The male ruddy duck is distinguished by his beautiful chestnut feathers, neck, and flanks. They have a black cap, white cheek, blue bill, and brown patches on their wings

Ruddy Duck image 2
Ruddy Duck image 2

On the other hand, the female has a single black line running through her cheek patch. There is no black crown on her head, and the rest of her body is a drab shade of grey-brown.

Food

To eat, ruddy ducks swim to the surface of the water and gorge on aquatic plants. They’re fed primarily on sedges and other types of waterweed but will also eat insects and small crustaceans.

two male and female ruddy ducks
two male and female ruddy ducks

Lifestyle

They thrive in humid environments with plenty of water and thick vegetation. They can dive for food and are hence very skilled swimmers. The ruddy duck is a nocturnal bird that sleeps throughout the day. Since they sleep with their heads folded, it makes them look like a ball with a straight, long, rounded tail.

Because of their sociable nature, these birds frequently gather in couples or travel in tightly-knit groups. While groups are more common, some individuals might show up alone.

a red-brown ruddy duck
a red-brown ruddy duck

The only time you’re likely to see a ruddy duck on land is during the breeding season. The males arrive at the breeding grounds ahead of the females, and they pair up quickly when they arrive. These ducks are more combative than others and will protect their territory vigorously.

They are much more likely to dive than to fly when they are scared. Ruddy ducks are pretty timid and often find ways to make themselves disappear amongst submerged plants if they feel threatened. While ruddy ducks don’t raise such loud voices, they do make a sound similars to a drum, and the males usually make a

Ruddy Duck Video – Source: Animals and Birds

Population

As they spend most of their time in wetlands, ruddy ducks are particularly vulnerable to threats such as water pollution, oil spills, and habitat loss. The population of Ruddy ducks is declining, despite their status as “Least Concern” (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

ruddy ducks prefer vegetation areas
ruddy ducks prefer vegetation areas

According to the website ducks.org :

  • Ruddy ducks stayed in the mainland of North America are estimated to have more than 600 thousand birds.
  • From more than 20 to 100 thousand ruddy ducks are found in the Neotropics.
  • The Oxyura ferruginea species (ruddy ducks which are found in the Andean Mountains population) is estimated to number between over 2 and 10 thousand of ducks.
  • However, there are only less than 70 ruddy ducks left in the UK over the winter, taken data from RSPB.

They often migrate in small groups, from the southern USA and Mexico to northern South America. The migrating birds spend the cold season in the bays, unfrozen lakes, and ponds along the coast.

Distribution

You’re most likely to spot a ruddy duck on any of the large lakes or reservoirs (such as Lakes, marshes, ponds, salt bays, and estuaries) in the West Midlands, northern England, Anglesey, or southern Scotland.

rubby duck’s population map
rubby duck’s population map – Source: Birdsoftheworld.org

In the United Kingdom, they are seen as an invasive species. White-headed ducks, a native species, are in danger because they hybridize with and compete with the introduced ruddies for nesting grounds.

From autumn until spring, you can find Ruddy Ducks on open water near land or in harbors and tiny bays along the coast. The ruddy duck is a migratory bird. However, some of them treat Southern Canada, the US, and Mexico as their permanent home.

During the summer months, you can see them swimming and diving in the wetlands of the prairie pothole and interior Western regions.

Interesting facts

They are most common in the summer, but few people see them. Because of their sensitivity, ruddy ducks spend a lot of time hiding among the cattails that populate the edges of wetlands.

It is a known fact that ruddy ducks produce the most significant number of eggs of any kind of duck. (Amazingly, a hen can lay an egg every day and eventually produce a clutch of eggs that weighs more than she does).

a rubby duck stays in the water
a rubby duck stays in the water

Among the duck species, ruddies belong to the group ” stiff-tailed ” group because of their long, rigid tail feathers.

When they are breeding, ruddy ducks are at their most active and aggressive that rabbits can even be their pursued food.

Skeletal remains of ruddy ducks dating back at least 11,000 years have been discovered in the states of Oregon and California.

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