Beak of the Week – Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Family: Anatidae

This week’s Beak of the Week is named after its reddish-brown body, although it is perhaps more easily recognized by its striking light blue bill. Ruddy Ducks lay the largest eggs of all waterfowl, proportionately. The ducklings are already well-developed when hatched and need minimal parental care.

This small and compact duck often raises its spiky tail vertically while swimming. In fact, the genus name Oxyura means “sharp tail” in Greek. Only breeding males have the distinctive blue bill. They also have a chestnut body, black head, and well-defined white cheek. The rest of the year, males are brownish-gray with a gray bill, although they retain the black cap and white cheek. Their plumage looks similar to that of a nonbreeding Black Scoter, but Ruddy Ducks are smaller with a long, raised tail. Females have a dark brown cap and an arched line across their cheek.

Ruddy Ducks are widespread throughout the United States and are most common in the Houston area during fall, winter, and spring. They mostly breed in the upper Great Plains and Canada and winter in the United States and Mexico on ponds, lakes, and marshes. In the 1950s, Ruddy Ducks escaped from captivity and established a European population, much to the detriment of the related, native, and endangered White-headed Duck.

These stocky waterfowl are diving ducks and form small, unmixed flocks while foraging. They dive to the bottoms of water bodies to strain invertebrates from mud using small plates on their bill. Despite their small size, they are known for their aggression towards other Ruddy Ducks and other species, especially during the breeding season.


✏️ By Phoebe Honscheid, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty

Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds!

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