Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensis

Picture of a male ruddy duck
Image by John J. Mosesso and the USGS, public domain

Physical: Ruddy ducks are named for the male’s rusty red plumage. They have a black head and neck with white cheeks, a blue bill, and long black tail feathers that stick up in the rear. Females are mottled grey, with the same dark streak running across their eyes and upper head.

Habitat: Prefers freshwater lakes and ponds with marshy borders. In the winter, they stay on coastal bays and estuaries, as well as large unfrozen inland lakes. You’ll find them in Barnegat Bay over the winter.

Feeding: Ruddy ducks feed by diving into the water to pick through the mud with their bills. They eat the seeds and roots of aquatic plants (pondweeds, sedges, grasses), as well as insects, molluscs, crustaceans, and sometimes small fish. In the summer, they start eating more insects and insect larvae.

Breeding: Breeding adults pair up after they arrive at their breeding grounds. Males display by sticking their tail up over their back, smacking their neck with their bill, and short, splashy sprints through the water. Females will build a nest on a platform of grasses and cattails, anchored into the marsh vegetation a few inches above the water. Ruddy ducks lay 5-10 large, rough, whitish eggs. They may also lay eggs in other ruddy duck nests or other birds’ nests. Females incubate them for 23-26 days.

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