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Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensis

The Ruddy Duck was once called “Blue Bill”, or “Blue-Billed Duck”, or even “Stiff Tail”. They breed across most of western North America and Mexico. These diving ducks seek wetlands and reservoirs during the breeding season.

In 1948, so-called conservationist Sir Peter Scott imported some of these ducks to the United Kingdom, and collectors added them to their collection. As one would expect, there were escapes and/or releases into the wild, and soon their population exploded across Europe. There, the more sexually aggressive Ruddy Ducks interbred with the endangered White-Headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala). Concerned about the welfare and preservation of the White-Headed Duck, conservationists in Spain and other countries began a campaign to extirpate the Ruddy Duck in Europe, dropping their numbers from a high estimates of nearly 6000 birds in the year 2000, to about 20~100 in 2014.

During most of the year near my Southern California home, I’m able to find these ducks in nearby ponds. When the drakes are in full breeding mode, with turquoise bills, bright white cheeks and coppery bronzed bodies, it is entertaining to watch them perform their comical mating song-and-dance. It is a softly rendered staccato quacking, accompanied by a rapid up-and-down dipping of the bill.

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