Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
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.
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.