Bird of the Month

Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis

General description: The Ruddy Duck is a small, thick-necked diving duck. The male is rusty or chestnut colored with a black cap ending below the eye and a black nape. Below the cap is a white cheek patch. The female is more gray but has a similar body shape.

The most distinctive features of males though occur at opposite ends of their bodies.

The bill of a breeding male Ruddy Duck is sky blue, creating instant recognition for observers. The Greater Scaup is actually known as the bluebill, but the male Ruddy Duck’s bill is bluer. After the breeding season, this characteristic fades to gray.

At the opposite end rides a long spiky tail, much longer than most other ducks. More, this tail is often cocked nearly straight up, giving the Ruddy Duck a jaunty and distinctive look.

The Ruddy Duck could have been the model for the first rubber duckie—cute, small, compact, large-billed and perky-tailed. In all, the Ruddy Duck is one of the most distinctive and easily recognizable birds on the water.

When and where found at Camas NWR: Ruddy Ducks are one of the most common birds on Camas NWR and may be found there from April through October. Big Pond is a good place to look, but you may find them in any wetland with standing water.

Behavior and Food Sources: Ruddy Ducks are truly birds of the water, and are rarely seen on land. They are diving ducks, spending their feeding time, mostly at night, diving to the bottom of the pond and scooping up bottom mud and straining invertebrates out of it with their bill.

Ruddy Ducks are fast strong fliers, capable of long migrations, but they tend to fly straight without a lot of weaving and dodging. Their best predator avoidance system is to dive under the water and emerge yards away.

Unlike most ducks, Ruddy Ducks don’t select mates until they are on the breeding waters. Typically, this is a monogamous arrangement but with a new partner each year. Males perform by pointing their tail straight up and rapidly beating their bill against their inflated neck to attract females. They may also run along the surface making popping noises with their feet.

Once the pair mates the female lays a clutch of white eggs with textured surfaces. Proportionally, these eggs are the largest eggs among the ducks. Ducklings hatch well-formed and mother offers minimal parental services once they take to the water.

Threatened/Endangered Status: According to the Cornell All About Birds website, “Ruddy Duck is not on the? 2014 State of the Birds Watch List...Ruddy Ducks depend heavily on wetlands in the prairie pothole region of North America, where grazing, burning, and wetland drainage have degraded portions of their habitat. Their future success will depend in large part on the protection and restoration of that region.”

Text and photo by Terry Thomas

(Information sources: Cornell’s All About Birds website (, Brian Wehausen, Manager, Camas NWR.