Lee Richardson Zoo

Ruddy Duck

Order: Anseriformes – Ducks, Geese, Swans
Family: Anatidae-Ducks, geese, and swans

Scientific Name:  Oxyura jamaicensis


Description:  Characterized as a small duck which does not quack.  Adults reach lengths of 14-17 inches and weigh 1-1¼ lbs.  Hard, curved nail in the center of the bill.  Female is finely marked dark brown.  Cream colored cheeks have a brown stripe running back from bill.  Bill is dull gray.  A non-breeding juvenile male resembles female in plumage and bill color but has a black head and pure white cheeks.  Breeding male has rich, red-brown upper parts, white belly and rump, with a black neck and head.  Small tufts on the crown of head, white cheeks, pale blue bill (in the breeding season).  Young ducks are dark brown.


Home Range:  North America, South America, West Indies

Habitat Type:  Prefer prairie marshes, and heavily vegetated areas. 


Reproductive Habits:  Ruddy ducks reach sexual maturity usually at two years, but occasionally at one year.  Breeding season is from April to June.  In the winter, males and females ignore each other.  In the mating season, the male performs a “bubbling” display.  In front of the female, he will puff up his neck and beat his bill against his chest to make a drumming sound.  He also cocks his tail up to show off his white rump.  The female observes passively, but she squeaks at males that come too close.  It takes several weeks for the pair to bond and mate.  Together they construct a nest among bulrushes and reeds that can be easily bent to form a structure about 12 in. wide and 3 in. deep.  This nest “bowl” may have a ramp leading to it and may be covered over the top.  Female lays 6-10 eggs, 1 per day, and incubates them alone for almost 4 weeks.  Male helps protect the young after hatching.  Females may lay some eggs in nests of other females, resulting in large broods containing ducklings at different stages of development.


Diet in Wild:  Plants, water plants, insects, and small crustaceans that meet their protein needs.


Diet in Zoo:  Grains, lettuce, bread, and naturally growing plants in and around the duck pond.


General Info:  The small Ruddy duck is sometimes called the “butterball” or the “stiff-tail”.  The second nick-name often refers to the duck’s long, firm tail feathers, which it can use as a rudder in the water.  Ruddy ducks rarely fly, but when they do, they must patter their wings along the water surface, flapping them in order to pick up enough speed to fly.  When they molt in the summer, the ruddy duck loses so many wing feathers that it can’t fly until new feathers grow.  They are sociable, living and migrating in flocks.  However, the sexes often migrate separately, and meet up at breeding time.  They are only partially migratory.  The North American population usually goes south for the winter, while South American and West Indies populations remain sedentary or migrate only on small scale flights.
Ruddy ducks avoid extremely cold climates.  They are almost never found near running water.  They usually settle on fresh water, but may settle on brackish (slightly salty) water in their winter quarters, because salt water freezes slower and sustains more under water vegetation.  They seek out heavily vegetated areas and make their nests under dense cover.


Conservation Status: It is estimated that the Ruddy duck population in North America is about 600,000.  The populations in South America and the West Indies are unknown but thought to be stable.  Due to the loss of habitat and oil spills, Ruddy ducks are threatened in some of their home ranges, but are not considered desperately threatened world wide.



Wildlife Fact File.  Group 2: Birds.  Card #282.  1992.


Handbook of the Birds of the World.  Vol. 1.  J. del Hoya, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal.  Lynx Edicions.  Barcelona. 1992.  pp. 627.


Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World.  P.A. Johnsgard.  University of Nebraska Press.  Lincoln and London.  1978.  pp. 369-372.