Ruddy Duck

This bird is a riddle. It received scathing write-ups from early naturalists and was overlooked by sportsmen. Its thick neck and plumage make it at once laughable and endearing.

 Ruddy Duck, Photographed by Tom Benson

Ruddy Duck, Photographed by Tom Benson

Not only is its neck oversized but so too are its eggs, which are proportionately the largest of duck eggs. This metabolic investment in eggs pays off with precocious chicks that swim and dive immediately after hatching and leave the nest within a day. Perhaps as a result of these large eggs, which would present a large metabolic payoff for a raccoon or fox, the duck nests in up to a foot of water and covers the nest with grasses, sedges, and cattails.

No other duck quite resembles a rubber duck as much as this one. Tucked into a prairie pothole in southern Wisconsin like Goose Pond or Horicon Marsh, this bird wiggles its bill, drums its chest, and in a buzzing croak declares its tail the straightest and longest, its feet the biggest.

Its Latin name is derived from “oxus” which means sharp, and describes not its color pallet but the shape of its tail.

Looking as if fitted with a black turtleneck and black hat contrasted with a white face and chestnut coat, this bird's muted mismatchings are outdone on its bill. A beautiful Carolina blue dazzles marshes and ponds during breeding season. This bill dives to the bottom of marshes and filters through the mud for invertebrates, springing to the surface to reveal a mouth colored fuller than a blue spring sky. This bird is a Ruddy Duck.

Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward