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Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensis

In winter, male and female ruddy ducks look similar. Females can be identified by the dark smudge-like line across their cheeks. (Marlin Harms/Flickr)
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In winter, male and female ruddy ducks look similar. Females can be identified by the dark smudge-like line across their cheeks. (Marlin Harms/Flickr)

The ruddy duck is a small, chubby diving duck that visits the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, marshes and freshwater lakes from autumn through spring.

Appearance:

  • Males are dull brown in autumn and turn grayish-brown like females in winter
  • Large head with a wide gray bill
  • Males have white cheeks and a black “cap” on the head
  • Females have a dark smudge-like line across the cheek
  • Short, thick neck
  • Long, stiff tail that is often held straight up in the air
  • Legs set far back on the body
  • In summer (when ruddy ducks are not found in the Chesapeake Bay region), males have a chestnut body and a blue bill
  • Grows to 16 inches with a wingspan of 23 inches

Habitat:

  • Found in shallow waters on the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers, including marshes
  • Also spends time on freshwater ponds and lakes
  • Frequently found in areas with lots of bay grasses
  • Large flocks can be seen floating just off the Bay’s shoreline in winter

Range:

  • Visits the Bay region from autumn through spring
  • Spends the summer in the Prairie Pothole region of North and South Dakota and southern Canada

Feeding:

  • Feeds on bay grasses such as pondweeds and wild celery
  • Will also eat insects, mollusks and crustaceans in vegetated areas
  • Dives to find its prey

Predators:

  • Adults may be preyed upon by minks, hawks, owls and red foxes
  • Humans hunt ruddy ducks

Flight:

  • Takes off by running and pattering across the water’s surface
  • Beats its wings very rapidly while flying
  • Can be identified in flight by its dark wings, white cheeks (on males) and stiff tail

Voice:

  • Usually silent in winter
  • Breeding males have several calls used to attract a mate

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Does not breed in the Chesapeake Bay region
  • Breeds in spring and summer in the Prairie Pothole region of the Midwest and southern Canada
  • To attract a mate, males go through an extravagant courtship ritual that includes swimming around a female, slapping his chest with his bill, making several calls, and running across the water’s surface
  • Can live as long as 13 years, but rarely lives longer than 2-3 years

Other Facts:

  • One of the smallest ducks found in the Chesapeake Bay region
  • When alarmed, ruddy ducks dive underwater rather than flying away
  • Ruddy ducks are excellent swimmers. They use their long, stiff tail as a rudder to move underwater. However, they are extremely clumsy on land.
  • Even though they are small, ruddy ducks lay some of the largest eggs of any duck in the world

Sources and Additional Information:

Places:




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