RUDDY DUCK – (Oxyura jamaicensis)
The Ruddy Duck is a small diving duck with a sharp tail made of stiff feathers, which are erect when the duck is at rest. The duck is around 40 cm (15 in.) long. The drake is mainly rufous brown with a black crown and nape, white cheeks and a light blue bill. The tail is dark grey. Females are mottled brown, as well as non-breeding males. Females have washed out white cheeks with a stripe across it. The legs in both sexes are grey.
The English name ‘Duck’ is from Anglo-saxon ‘duce’ and means ‘diver’. The Latin name ‘Oxyura’ refers to the pointed tail of the duck, and ‘Jamaicensis’ the location (Jamaica) of the first identified individuals.
The ruddy duck can be found in wetlands such as marshes, small lakes and ponds. They feed on plant material such as roots and seeds, and also on crustaceans and insects.
Although the ruddy duck breeds on PEI and is a year-round resident, this bird species however is rare in spring and summer, and rare to uncommon in fall. Winter observations have been occasional as well. In Canada, its breeding range covers mainly the prairies pothole region, but in the USA and Mexico it covers most of those countries. For the winter this duck will migrate to coastal areas and wetlands that do not freeze.
Invasiveness controversy: the ruddy duck was imported in the UK in 1948 and then spread in the wild, and into other European countries. Because it interbreeds with the endangered White-headed Duck (belonging to the same genus), conservationists in Spain were alarmed at this and requested a cull of the ducks migrating from the UK. So the British started culling their ‘alien’ population, at a cost of some 915£ per duck ($1,665.00 CDN), which makes it the most expensive duck in the world, as per bird lovers in the UK. Then some of those birders aptly commented that there was little point in culling the UK population if the same action was not undertaken in ALL the other European countries where the duck is now established. And there appears to be little incentive to do so due to the high cost and logistical difficulties in locating those birds, and the challenge of NOT killing by mistake the female white-headed duck, which looks very similar to the female of the ruddy duck.