Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis

Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, adult male. Photo Credit: Dave Hawkins
Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, adult male. Photo Credit: Dave Hawkins

The Ruddy Duck is the only "stiff-tailed" duck regularly found in North America.  The name refers to the long spiky tail that they often hold nearly straight up. 

Ruddy Ducks winter in small numbers throughout most of Tennessee and can be found in the state from mid-October to early May.  Their breeding range extends from central Canada across most of the western United States and Mexico.  They winter along both coasts, across the southern United States, and southward to northern Central America and the Caribbean.

They were introduced into Britain where they are considered a pest species.

Description: This large headed, chunky, thick-necked duck often swims with its long tail cocked up.  In breeding plumage (March-August), the male has a reddish-brown body, a powder blue bill, and the black head has a large conspicuous white cheek-patch.  During the rest of the year the cheek-patch is still obvious, but the bird is overall brown, and the bill is gray.

The female looks similar to the non-breeding male, but is duller with a dark line through the cheek patch. In flight, the wing is all-dark.

Length: 15"

Wingspan: 18.5"

Weight: 1.2 lbs.

Similar Species:

  • Female Black Scoters have a whitish cheek, but are larger, darker birds, and never cock their tails.  Black Scoters are the rarest of the 3 scoter species in Tennessee.

Habitat: In Tennessee, found on ponds, lakes and rivers.

Diet: Primarily aquatic insects, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other invertebrates.

Nesting and reproduction: There are no known nesting records for this species in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: The Ruddy Duck is a fairly common migrant in the state and an uncommon winter resident.  They arrive by mid-October and depart by early May.

Dynamic map of Ruddy Duck eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Ruddy Ducks were introduced to the United Kingdom from North America in the 1940s, and the current population in the wild is estimated to be around 6,000 birds. Because they are able to hybridize with the globally threatened White-headed Duck, they are considered an invasive pest species. There is a current effort to eradicate Ruddy Ducks from Great Britain. (See link below.)

Obsolete English Names: sleepy duck

Best places to see in Tennessee: Ponds, lakes and rivers across the state.