Ruddy Duck

Common Name: Ruddy Duck

Class:  Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Oxyura

Species: Oxyura jamaicensis

photo Steve Pitt

 

Taxonomy/Description

 

The Ruddy Duck belongs to the family Anatidae.  This family is made up of ducks and duck-like waterfowl.  The members of this family share adaptations to life on the water including webbed feet, flattened bills, and feathers with special oils to prevent water absorption.  The Latin name, Oxyura jamaicensis means  “Jamaican pointed-tail.”  The Ruddy Duck is named this because they were first discovered in Jamaica and the male will point its tail upwards during courtship.  The Ruddy Duck is a small diving duck.  In the summer, the male is reddish brown with a black cap and a white cheek.  It also has a sky blue bill.  In the winter, the male is gray with a white cheek.  The female Ruddy Duck is gray.  It is distinguished from the male in the winter by a horizontal gray line on its white cheek.

 

Habitat/Diet

 

The Ruddy Duck can be found on freshwater marshes including those formed by the Great Lakes.  It also favors reservoirs, ponds, and deep natural basins during the breeding seasons.  During reproduction, prairie potholes in the Midwest are also essential for their survival.  During migration it can be found lakes, reservoirs, and permanent wetlands.  During the winter, the duck can also be found in freshwater and brackish marshes and bays, as well as tidal estuaries.   The Ruddy Duck winters throughout the United States and Mexico.  Some populations of the Ruddy Duck do not migrate and live year round in the Caribbean and Southwest United States.  The diet of Ruddy Ducks consists of invertebrates such as zooplanktons, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.  They also consume a small amount of aquatic plants and seeds.

 

Behavior/Reproduction

 

The Ruddy Duck is one of the most aquatic ducks and has trouble with land locomotion.  Its feet are large and set far back on the body that aids in diving. The duck can be extremely aggressive, especial during the breeding seasons.  Predators of the Ruddy Duck include the Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Mink, Raccoon, and Red Fox.  The Black-Crowned Night Heron and Ring-billed Gull will also attack the young while the American Crow will prey upon eggs.  To escape predation, the Ruddy Duck will usually dive or swim to open water.  In the breeding season, pair bonds form shortly after the duck’s arrival to the breeding ground.  However, some male Ruddy Ducks are polyandrous.  This means the male will mate with more than one female in a breeding year.  The eggs laid by the female Ruddy Duck are the largest of the ducks when compared to body side.  Since laying the eggs is so physically demanding, usually only one nest is made each year.  Nests are normally made of dead materials with few made of entirely green vegetation.  On average, 7-8 eggs will be laid in the nest.  Only the female will care for the young hatchlings and most females will abandon their ducklings before the young can fly.    

 

Where to see them in WNY

 

The Ruddy Duck is a rare visitor the Western New York.  However, it can be seen in the freshwater marshes and ponds of Western New York during the breeding season and the winter.

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