Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensis

An odd little diver, the main North American representative of the group of stiff-tailed ducks, with spiky tail feathers that are often cocked up in the air. Usually lethargic, and seems reluctant to fly. On takeoff it must patter across the surface of the water to become airborne, then whirs along on rapidly beating wings. On land it is almost helpless. Flocks of Ruddies wintering on lakes seldom mix freely with other ducks, although they may associate with American Coots.
Conservation status Current population apparently much lower than historical levels, owing to unrestricted shooting early in 20th century and to loss of nesting habitat.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Fresh marshes, ponds, lakes; in winter, salt bays. Breeds on fresh or alkaline lakes and ponds with extensive marshy borders and with areas of open water. In winter on protected shallow bays and estuaries along coast; also on ice-free lakes and ponds in the interior, including those with little or no marshy border.
An odd little diver, the main North American representative of the group of stiff-tailed ducks, with spiky tail feathers that are often cocked up in the air. Usually lethargic, and seems reluctant to fly. On takeoff it must patter across the surface of the water to become airborne, then whirs along on rapidly beating wings. On land it is almost helpless. Flocks of Ruddies wintering on lakes seldom mix freely with other ducks, although they may associate with American Coots.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • juvenile
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled by feet, using its bill to strain food items from mud at the bottom of ponds. Rarely forages by dabbling at the surface.


Eggs

5-10, typically 8. Whitish, becoming nest-stained, with rough, granular surface, and quite large for size of bird. Ruddies often lay eggs in each others' nests and in those of other ducks and marsh birds. Incubation is by female, 23-26 days. Young: Leave the nest within a day after hatching, are able to swim and dive well immediately. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. Age at first flight about 6 weeks. One brood per year in north, sometimes 2 in south.


Young

Leave the nest within a day after hatching, are able to swim and dive well immediately. Young are tended by female but feed themselves. Age at first flight about 6 weeks. One brood per year in north, sometimes 2 in south.

Diet

Mostly seeds, roots, insects. Feeds on the seeds and roots of plants including pondweeds, sedges, smartweeds, coontail, and grasses. Also eats aquatic insects, mollusks, crustaceans, rarely small fish. Insects and their larvae may be main foods eaten in summer.


Nesting

Pairs form after arrival on breeding waters. Courtship displays of male include raising tail over back and bouncing head rapidly so that bill slaps against chest; short rushes across water with much splashing of wings and feet. Nest site is in dense marsh vegetation over shallow water. Nest (built by female) is a woven platform of grasses, cattails, lined with down, a few inches above water and anchored to standing marsh growth. Sometimes built on top of old muskrat house or coot nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Apparently migrates mostly at night, in small flocks. Migration extends over considerable period in both spring and fall. Populations in Caribbean and South America may be permanent residents.

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Migration

Apparently migrates mostly at night, in small flocks. Migration extends over considerable period in both spring and fall. Populations in Caribbean and South America may be permanent residents.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent. Courting male produces ticking and clapping sounds by pressing its bill against its breast.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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