Bird Lady Blog

September 27, 2012

Ruddy or Not?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 8:37 pm
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Photo Courtesy of Cindi Shepard

So one Tuesday morning in August I was sitting in my office in Scottsdale writing a client report and I received a phone call from a very excited person in Munds Park:  “Margaret, we’re on the Golf Course on Hole #1 and the pond on the left has a really beautiful duck – with a blue beak!  Do you know what it is?  Is it some exotic species?”    Now keep in mind that the use of a cell phone on any golf course is frowned upon by golfers, but obviously this golfer was a bird enthusiast as well, and she just had to know what she was looking at!  The “blue beak” was a dead giveaway.  I confidently answered, “You are looking at a Ruddy Duck”.  In my early days of birding I was not able to identify ducks well at all, but over the years I spent time at the Phoenix Zoo’s ponds during the winter to see all the species of migrating ducks.  A blue bill is a give-away for a Ruddy Duck.  You would think it would be called “Blue-Billed Duck”, but no, that’s not how it works.

The Ruddy Duck is one of several fresh water diving ducks that have erect tails when at rest – so their group is actually called “stiff tailed ducks”.  This photo taken by Cindi Sheppard on a Sunday afternoon later in the week while we golfed is a great example of why the name “stiff-tailed duck”.  These ducks rarely leave the water because their legs are set so far back in their body, making them awkward and vulnerable on land.

Our male Munds Park Ruddy Duck seemed to have a mate around because later in that week we saw another diving, but duller, duck nearby.  However, since we were supposed to be golfing that Sunday and not birding, I didn’t get to stick around and make a positive identification.  Male Ruddy Ducks are quiet beautiful:  a brilliant rusty-brown back and sides (hence the name “Ruddy”), a black head with white sides, and of course the blue bill.  Females are much duller, brown/gray, and do not have the blue bill.

Ruddy ducks are monogamous and typically raise one brood of about eight eggs per year.  The female incubates the eggs.  If this pair bred, they may have done so on Lake Odell.  During our Munds Park bird walk on July 15th this year, we did sight a male Ruddy Duck, so perhaps this pair successfully bred here.  Next year we will want to be on the look-out for ducklings.

Our Ruddy Ducks will most likely be migrating soon.  They spend their winters in the Pacific coastal states and western coast of Mexico.  They are thought to travel at night.  To me, migration is a wonder; all the activity while we are sound asleep in our beds, not aware of the many waterfowl and other birds flying overhead to get to a warmer climate before winter sets in.

Oh, and by the way, there is actually a “Blue-Billed Duck”, one of the related species of our Ruddy Duck, and it is found and is named that way in Australia.  One thing about writing these articles – I learn something new each time!  I hope you do, too.

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