Paddling across the water with its long, stiff tail held upright, the Ruddy Duck is a fun bird to watch. Seen now in colorful breeding plumage, the male ruddy—with his sky blue, scoop-shaped bill, bright white cheek patch, blackish head cap, and chestnut colored body—looks like a clown. Like most ducks, the female is less colorful with a brown body, black bill and but with a sophisticated whitish cheek patch crossed by a black stripe. After breeding season, the male loses his colorful attire and resembles the female.
Both sexes are small, compact ducks with thick necks. With legs set far back on the body, these ducks are nearly helpless on land, but they are adept divers who paddle with their feet to reach the bottom of shallow waters to feed. Here, they scoop up mouthfuls of mud, which they strain through their large bills to extract the aquatic invertebrates that they eat. Typically, Ruddy Ducks feed at night and spend much of the day sleeping on water with their heads tucked.
Although most Ruddy Ducks breed in the prairie pothole regions of south-central Canada and north-central U.S., they do breed here in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Some even stay year-round. Fossil records show that ruddy ducks have lived in North America for at least 11,000 years, but their future depends on the protection and restoration of the wetland areas where they breed.
Bird of the Week is brought to you by Audubon Rockies and Weminuche Audubon Society.