Ruddy Ducks showing off!

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Belmont Pond Ruddy surprise!.jpg
His flat tail indicates that he’s alone, and not looking for a mate at this time….

Every spring we look forward to the return of Ruddy Ducks from their wintering grounds to the south and west (jump to maps at the end of this post). Two locations where we have most success are Robert Lake on Kelowna’s northern border, and Birdie Lake at Predator Ridge Resort, a few km. south of Vernon, BC. In May 2015, we were treated to the appearance for a couple of days of a solitary Ruddy drake virtually in our back yard, Belmont Pond, shown above.

170423 Birdie Lake at Predator Ridge
Click this photo to go to a detailed map of Predator Ridge trails in a new tab.

Our most reliable site for these fascinating little narcissists is Birdie Lake. We discovered this gem about 10 years ago when my son was working at the Ridge and staying only a short walk from the ‘pond.’ It’s a great place for a variety of waterfowl and perching birds. This Spring we were even treated to the calls of Great Horned Owls (although, sadly, we did not locate them). While the RUDUs usually are best photographed in the small ponds on the southwest side, they can also be observed from the deck on the peninsula at the northwest end. That’s where we were able to find and photograph them this year: five bemused drakes and a single, amused hen.

We were treated to some very interesting, indeed, entertaining courtship behaviour from the males. The lady offered some encouragement — as the photos show.

Getting the colour balance right with these drakes is always a challenge!

Ruddy Duck drake (Oxyura jamaicensis)
I think I’m pretty balanced! Maybe you’re the one off kilter!

The Audubon Field Guide online, describes our little buddy as: “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.”

Ruddy Duck drake (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Even sitting still, he shows that he’s ‘ready to go!’

Cornell’s Lab or Ornithology adds this description: “Ruddy Duck[drake]s are compact, thick-necked waterfowl with seemingly oversized tails that [in Spring] they habitually hold upright. Breeding males are almost cartoonishly bold, with a sky-blue bill, shining white cheek patch, and gleaming chestnut body. They court females by beating their bill against their neck hard enough to create a swirl of bubbles in the water.” And here’s what this behaviour looked like in the last week of April 2017 (Sorry about the low quality here):

Last look goes to Her Nibs, who looks marvellously unimpressed by the entire show!

Ruddy hen

I am the target text.

There is some discrepancy in the range maps of the three different sources below. Just goes to show that “The Internet” is not necessarily the arbiter of truth…. Take your pick!

Click to return to introduction

From Cornell, some “Cool Facts“:

  • Ruddy Ducks lay big, white, pebbly-textured eggs—the largest of all duck eggs relative to body size. Energetically expensive to produce, the eggs hatch into well-developed ducklings that require only a short period of care.
  • The bright colors and odd behavior of male Ruddy Ducks drew attention from early naturalists, though they didn’t pull any punches. One 1926 account states, “Its intimate habits, its stupidity, its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself…. Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.”
  • Pleistocene fossils of Ruddy Ducks, at least 11,000 years old, have been unearthed in Oregon, California, Virginia, Florida, and Illinois.
  • Ruddy Ducks are very aggressive toward each other and toward other species, especially during the breeding season. They are even known to chase rabbits feeding on the shore.
  • Though Ruddy Ducks are native to the Americas, one population became established in England after captive ducks escaped in 1952. This population grew to about 3,500 individuals by 1992, and now appears to be expanding into the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Spain.
  • Ruddy Ducks get harassed by Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, and American Coots during the breeding season. The grebes sometimes attack Ruddy Ducks from below the water, a behavior known as “submarining.”
  • The oldest Ruddy Duck on record was a male and at least 13 years, 7 months old. He was banded in British Columbia and 1951 and found in Oregon in 1964.

And a final note from the Audubon Field Guide website:

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

Let’s hope that restoration of habitat will help these peculiar and loveable little waterfowl!


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