The Ruddy Duck

by Skip Via
skip@westvalleynaturalists.org

In every class, there is a class clown. If you put all ducks into a classroom, that role would probably be filled by the ruddy duck. I don’t know of any duck that is more amusing to watch.

Ruddy ducks breed in the valley and show up during the spring migration season, where they form pairs and build nests. They love ponds and wetlands and will build their nests in tall reeds. They are primarily divers, using their flat bills to sift through the mud for roots, seeds, insects, and sometimes small fish.

Male ruddy ducks are hard to miss. Their most prominent feature is their wide, flat, bright blue bill. That bill is attached to a head with a short, thick neck, which itself is attached to a compact brown body with tail feathers that are typically carried straight up in the air. They strike me as a cartoonist’s take on ducks. Even the name suggests a family tie with Daffy. Females are duller, a bit smaller, and with a dark bill. The easiest way to identify a female may be to look for a male, as they will often feed in pairs.

(Photo and videos by Skip Via)

Ruddy ducks are built for diving, but not for flying–or at least taking off. Like most divers, they need to get a good running start across the water’s surface in order to get airborne. In the water, they can dart around very quickly. They are fairly aggressive toward other ducks–sometimes including other ruddy ducks–and even to animals along the shore. In this video, you’ll see a ruddy duck pair get attacked by another male. Our hero defends his lady and continues proudly along, tail feathers held high.

Here’s a ruddy duck preening in the water. They are rarely observed on land. Their compact bodies and rear-mounted legs make them very awkward and vulnerable to potential predators.

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