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Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensus

Diving Ducks Family

Waterfowl Identification

Male Ruddy Duck
Female Ruddy Duck
Similar Waterfowl:
The conformation of the small ruddy duck is distinctive: a short, thick neck, chunky body, stubby wings, and a fan-shaped tail composed of stiff feathers. The male ruddy duck has a brilliant rusty-brown back, rump, neck, scapulars, chest, sides, and flanks. The crown, rear ear coverts and hindneck are black and the throat and sides of the head below the eyes are white. The bill is bright sky blue and the legs and feet are grayish. Female ruddy ducks have a grayish brown neck and body plumage. The sides of the head and neck are dull buff-brown with a single dusky horizontal stripe crossing a pale gray cheek patch. The bill is dark gray and the legs and feet are grayish.
Typical Size:
The male and female average 15 inches in length and weigh 1 1/4 pounds. They have a wingspan of 22 inches.
Habitats are varied, including swamps, fresh and brackish estuaries, and shallow wetlands.
Breeding activity of the nominate subspecies of ruddy duck is centered in the prairie region of North America as well as the Intermountain West. Small numbers also breed in the interior highlands of Mexico, freshwater marshes of Baja California, the southern Rocky Mountains, and the southern Great Plains. Most females do not breed until two years of age. Ruddy duck females lay an average of 8 eggs and construct nests in cattail and bulrush over water.
Ruddy ducks dive to feed on pondweeds, algae, and wild celery; and seeds of sedges, smartweeds, and grasses. They also eat aquatic insects and their larvae, shellfishes, and crustaceans. During the breeding season they feed mainly on invertebrates, primarily chironomid larvae and pupae.
The Pacific coastal states and the western coast of Mexico winter 55% of the ruddy duck population in North America. Roughly 25% winter on the eastern coast and 20% in the interior of the continent. Ruddy ducks are thought to travel at night. The nominate subspecies breeds in northern Mexico and is a fairly common resident in the Caribbean; also a common winter visitor to Mexico and Guatemala.
Flyway Patterns:
The ruddy duck can be found throughout all flyways but are most common in the Pacific and Atlantic.
Flight Formation:
Moderate size low flying flocks. Flight is fast and jerky. Their wing beats are short and rapid with speeds of 45 MPH.
The male and female Ruddy have a weak CLUCK.

Ruddy Duck Flight and Plumage Characteristics

This guide will help you recognize ruddy ducks on the wing - it emphasizes their fall and winter plumage patterns as well as size, shape, and flight characteristics. Ruddy ducks are early to mid-fall migrants and can be found throughout all flyways, but are most common in the Pacific and Atlantic. Their flight is fast and jerky and their wing beats are short and rapid. Rather than flying, they often dive or swim away from danger. Rudy duck drakes are only species to habitually cock their tails upright at an angle. Both drakes and hens are silent in the fall.