Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensis

35-43cm

Appearance

This is a compact, thick-necked diving duck, smaller than the Mallard. The sexes are dissimilar; the male has a distinctive bright blue bill, bright white cheeks, orange-chestnut plumage on his body, and a black head and nape. Two small wisps on his crown rise when he displays, and he's white beneath his tail. He grows browner come August; black speckles form on his white cheeks and his bill becomes greyer. The female has a blue-grey bill (similar to a winter male's) and a dark brown head. She is a grey-brown colour and her cheeks are pale and crossed with a dark line. Juvenile birds are similar to female adults, although the mark on their cheek is not yet distinct.

Habitat

In Britain, this bird breeds mainly in central and southern England. It prefers shallow lowland lakes with well-vegetated margins, and when in North America, is more likely to visit coastal areas.

Character

The Ruddy duck has a stiff tail that often sticks up in water. It is a fast diver, although sometimes it uses a sinking technique to get below the water's surface. Not such a ready flier, it launches by running across the water. The male has an interesting courtship routine; he collects air beneath the feathers on his breast in a special sac, then beats the sac with his bill. It emits a drum beat sound and produces bubbles.

Food

Insects and their larvae, water snails, worms and seeds of water plants are all part of the Ruddy Duck's diet.

Breeding

Nests are built by the female using reeds and leaves to create a platform near water. She lays 6-10 eggs and incubates for 25-26 days; she does this alone, but the male remains in the territory of the nest. Females have been known to leave a clutch of eggs in another Ruddy Duck's nest. The young are capable of diving and swimming soon after hatching, and can fly after about 50 days. Some females desert the ducklings after about 3 weeks and raise a second brood.

Population

This is a North American species that has formed feral populations in Britain. Several hundred pairs are widespread across lowland England, and it is a threat to the endangered White-headed Duck.

Observation Tips

The male's 'bubbling' courting technique can be seen in the spring.

Voice

Predominately a silent bird, though there's the hollow drumming of the male's courting technique. A collection of rattles, ticks and burps are also associated with these birds.
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