Clowns of the wetlands, Ruddy Ducks display energetically on their breeding ponds. With great vigor, the small males pump their bright blue bills, almost touching their breasts. The plap-plap-plap-plap-plap of the display increases in speed to its climax: a spasmodic jerk and sputter. The Ruddy Duck is the only stiff-tailed duck found in the Rockies. It can be seen cocking up its rather long tail as it swims around small ponds. Female Ruddies commonly lay up to 15 eggs-a remarkable feat, considering that their eggs are bigger than those of a Mallard, even though a Mallard is twice the size of a Ruddy Duck! Ruddy Ducks often seem reluctant to take flight. When they do, like most diving ducks they must patter across the water for quite a distance before they become airborne. On land, the Ruddy Duck is almost helpless.
I.D.: General: small duck; large bill and head; short neck; long, stiff tail feathers (often carried cocked upward). Breeding male: white cheeks; chestnut-red body; blue bill; black tail and crown. Female: brown overall; dark cheek stripe; darker crown and back. Winter male: like a female, but with a white cheek.
Size: L 15-16 in. (38-41 cm).
Range: common migrant and summer resident in the southern U.S. Rockies; uncommon migrant and summer resident in the central and northern U.S. Rockies and the Canadian Rockies.
Habitat: shallow marshes with dense emergent vegetation (such as cattails or bulrushes) and muddy bottoms.
Nesting: typically on the Great Plains; in cattails, bulrushes or other emergent vegetation; occasionally on a muskrat lodge or a log; basket-like nest is always suspended over water; occasionally uses the abandoned nest of another duck or coot.
Feeding: dives to the bottom of wetlands for the seeds of pondweeds, sedges and bulrushes and for the leafy parts of aquatic plants; also eats a few aquatic invertebrates.
Voice: Male: courtship display is chuck-chuck-chuck-chur-r-r-r. Female: generally silent.
Similar Species: Cinnamon Teal: lacks the white cheek and the blue bill. Diving ducks: females lack the long tail and the dark facial stripe.