Ruddy Duck

About the Ruddy Duck


Breeding activity of the nominate subspecies of ruddy duck is centered in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America, as well as the Intermountain West. Small numbers also breed in the interior highlands of Mexico, the freshwater marshes of Baja California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the southern Great Plains. Most females do not breed until two years of age. Ruddy duck females lay an average of 8 eggs and construct nests in cattail and bulrush over water.

Latin: Oxyura jamaicensis

Average length: M 15.4", F 15"

Average weight: M 1.20 lbs., F 1.19 lbs.


The conformation of the small ruddy duck is distinctive: a short, thick neck; chunky body; stubby wings and a fan-shaped tail composed of stiff feathers. The male ruddy duck has a brilliant rusty-brown back, rump, neck, scapulars, chest, sides and flanks. The crown, rear ear coverts and hindneck are black, and the throat and sides of the head below the eyes are white. The bill is bright sky blue and the legs and feet are grayish. The Andean ruddy duck has the white side of the head spotted with black in varying degrees. The Peruvian ruddy duck is larger than the other two subspecies and has a completely black head. Female ruddy ducks have grayish-brown neck and body plumage. The sides of the head and neck are dull buff-brown with a single dusky horizontal stripe crossing a pale-gray cheek patch. The bill is dark gray and the legs and feet are grayish.

Ruddy Duck Distribution

Food Habits

Ruddy ducks dive to feed on pondweeds, algae and wild celery, as well as the seeds of sedges, smartweeds and grasses. They also eat aquatic insects and their larvae, shellfish and crustaceans. During the breeding season they feed mainly on invertebrates, primarily chironomid larvae and pupae.


O. j. jamaicensis (North America, Central America, Caribbean) 650,000; O. j. andina, Andean ruddy duck (High Andes of Colombia) 2,500-10,000; O. j. ferruginea Peruvian ruddy duck (Neotropics) 25,000-100,000 (Rose and Scott, 1994).

Migrating and Wintering

he Pacific Coastal states and the western coast of Mexico winter 55 percent of the ruddy duck population in North America. Roughly 25 percent winter on the eastern coast and 20 percent in the interior of the continent. Ruddy ducks are thought to travel at night. The nominate subspecies breeds in northern Mexico and is a fairly common resident in the Caribbean; also a common winter visitor to Mexico and Guatemala. O. j.andina is confined to the Andes of northern and central Colombia, where it is scarce and local. O. j. ferruginea is common in the Andes from southern Colombia (Nario) to Tierra del Fuego (Scott and Carbonell, 1986).

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