Ruddy Duck

 

ruddy duckIf the ruddy duck were school bus yellow its posture in water would remind you of a rubber bathtub toy. With its stiff fan shaped tail held high and proud, and with its neck back and thick beak the ruddy duck looks like no other. Named for their rusty red summer plumage the ruddy duck is a winter visitor to Oklahoma and is the second smallest duck in America.

Ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are stocky swimmers generally only reaching 14 to 16 inches long and they weigh little more than a pound. In winter both male and female are a gray brown color with black crown and nape. Ruddy ducks have a dark of chestnut breast and a dusky tail. They have grey feet and a large concave bill. In the summer the males put on a rusty red color and their bills change to a bright baby blue. They also have a white cheek patch similar to a Canada goose only much brighter.

Like most waterfowl they are ­strong fliers and make the long migration from their northern range in Alaska and Canada to their over wintering grounds a along the U.S. gulf coasts south to mid Mexico. Ruddy ducks are somewhat unique in that they often make their migration at night. Even though they are strong enough to make the long migrations, with their short, pointed wings they are very poor at taking off from the water and usually will dive or swim away from predators. Ruddy ducks are a type of diving duck in the family Anatidae and can swim down to 10 feet under water.

Waterfowl tend to exhibit interesting behaviors during rewarded breeding seasons and ruddy ducks are no different. During ­the spring season the male’s bill changes to a light blue and he starts to set up territories. To show his control of an area the drake will inflate his neck, raise two tufts of hair on his head that look like horns, and drum his beak against his chest producing bubbles and a low hollow tapping. The rest of the time he is completely silent. After breeding, the female will make a floating nest of grasses and marsh vegetation. The female ruddy ducks will then lay eight to 10 white eggs (which are the largest eggs in relation to female body size) of any waterfowl species. She alone incubates the eggs for approximately 23 days and within two days hatching the ducklings can leave the nest and swim on their own. It will take them another six weeks before they are strong enough to take their first flight. In the mean time they are taught to eat pond weeds, sedges and other types of aquatic vegetation as well as dive for seeds and aquatic insects on the murky bottom.

Ever heard the term like duck out of water? Whoever coined the term probably saw a ruddy duck. Their legs are set back further than most ducks and they walk awkwardly with an upright stance on land.

Some years, ruddy ducks breed it as far south as the Oklahoma panhandle during the spring and summer, but gener­ally they are mostly seen in the winter on our Oklahoma lakes and ponds. So when you are outdoors this fall, look for that characteristic rubber ducky shape and you may be with a ruddy. They are one of the many species that demonstrate our rich wildlife heritage here in Oklahoma.