At a Glance

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.
Duck-like Birds, Ducks and Geese
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


14-16" (36-41 cm). Male has contrasting dark cap and white cheeks; ruddy brown body color and bright blue bill in breeding season. Female's pale cheeks crossed by smeary dark line. Wings solid dark in flight.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Blue, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Pointed, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Usually silent. Courting male produces ticking and clapping sounds by pressing its bill against its breast.
Call Pattern
Call Type


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Current population apparently much lower than historical levels, owing to unrestricted shooting early in 20th century and to loss of nesting habitat.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Ruddy Duck. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Ruddy Duck

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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