A Raft of Ruddys

The Ruddy Ducks had shown up in small numbers earlier.  At midday today a raft of them, probably close to 100 birds, floated on the North Basin.  Most of them seemed to be asleep, with beak tucked between wing feathers on their backs. They were too far from shore for my lens to get a good close-up, including the blue bills on the males, but they’re among the easiest birds to identify.  That perky upturned tail on a brownish body is their signature feature.  They’re divers, not dabblers, and they prefer to feed at night, so daytime sleeping is their usual routine.  

The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about Ruddy Ducks:

“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.”

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