Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
FULIGULA RUBIDA, Wils.
PLATE CCCXCIX.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.
Look at this plate, reader, and tell me whether you ever saw a greater
difference between young and old, or between male and female, than is apparent
here. You see a fine old male in the livery of the breeding season, put on as
it were expressly for the purpose of pleasing the female for awhile. The female
has never been figured before; nor, I believe, has any representation been given
of the young in the autumnal plumage. Besides these, you have here the young
male at the approach of spring.
The Ruddy Duck is by no means a rare species in the United States; indeed I
consider it quite abundant, especially during the winter months in the Peninsula
of Florida, where I have shot upwards of forty in one morning. In our Eastern
Districts they make their appearance early in September, and are then plentiful
from Eastport to Boston, in the markets of which, as well as of New York, I have
seen them. On the Ohio and Mississippi they arrive about the same period; and I
have no doubt that they will be found breeding in all our Western Territories,
as soon as attention is paid to such matters as the searching for nests with the
view of promoting science, or of domesticating birds which might prove
advantageous to the husbandman.
My friend Dr. BACHMAN informs me that this species is becoming more
abundant every winter in South Carolina. In the month of February he has seen a
space of the extent of an acre covered with it. Yet he has never found one in
still summer plumage in that country. It is equally fond of salt or brackish
and of fresh waters; and thus we find it at times on our seacoast, bays, and
mouths of rivers, as well as on lakes and even small ponds in the interior, or
on our salt marshes, provided they are not surrounded by trees, as it cannot
rise high in the air unless in an open space of considerable extent. At the
time of their arrival, they are seen in small flocks, more than from seven to
ten being seldom found together, until they reach the Southern States, where
they congregate in great flocks. When they leave their northern
breeding-grounds, some proceed along the coast, but a greater number along our
The flight of the Ruddy Duck is rapid, with a whirring sound, occasioned by
the concave form of the wings and their somewhat broad ends, the whistling sound
produced by other species having more pointed and stiffer quills, not being
heard in this, or only in a very slight degree. They rise from the water with
considerable difficulty, being obliged to assist themselves with their broad
webbed feet, and to run as it were on the surface for several yards, always
against the breeze, when it blows smartly. The strength of the muscles of their
feet enables them to spring from the ground at once. When they are fairly on
wing, they fly in the same manner as most of our travelling Ducks, sustain
themselves with ease, and are apt to remove to great distances. They alight on
the water more heavily than most others that are not equally flattened and short
in the body; but they move on that element with ease and grace, swimming deeply
immersed, and procuring their food altogether by diving, at which they are
extremely expert. They are generally disposed to keep under the lee of shores
on all occasions. When swimming without suspicion of danger, they carry the
tail elevated almost perpendicularly, and float lightly on the water; but as
soon as they are alarmed, they immediately sink deeper, in the manner of the
Anhinga, Grebes, and Cormorants, sometimes going out of sight without leaving a
ripple on the water. On small ponds they often dive and conceal themselves
among the grass along the shore, rather than attempt to escape by flying, to
accomplish which with certainty they would require a large open space. I saw
this very often when on the plantation of General HERNANDEZ in East Florida. If
wounded, they dived and hid in the grass; but, as the ponds there were shallow,
and had the bottom rather firm, I often waded out and pursued them. Then it was
that I saw the curious manner in which they used their tail when swimming,
employing it now as a rudder, and again with a vertical motion; the wings being
also slightly opened, and brought into action as well as the feet. They are by
no means shy, for I have often waded toward them with my gun until very near
them, when I cared not about shooting them, but was on the look-out for a new
Rail or Gallinule, along the margin of the ponds. They are often seen in
company with Teals, Scaup Ducks, Gadwalls, Shovellers, and Mallards, with all of
which they seem to agree.
My opinion that the males of this species lose the brightness of their
spring dress before they return to us in autumn, is founded on the occurrence of
multitudes of males at that season destitute of the garb in question, and my
examination of many for the purpose of determining their sex and ascertaining
that they were old birds. In February 1832, I saw immense flocks of Ruddy Ducks
about a hundred miles up the St. John's in Florida. They would start from the
water, as our schooner advanced under sail, patting it with their feet, so as to
make a curious and rather loud noise, somewhat resembling the fall of
hail-stones on the shingles. Their notes are uttered in a rather low tone and
very closely resemble those of the female Mallard. They afford good eating when
fat and young, and especially when they have been feeding for some weeks on
fresh waters, where their food generally consists of the roots and blades of
such grasses is spring from the bottom of rivers and ponds, as well as of the
seeds of many gramineae. When on salt marshes, they eat small univalve shells,
fiddlers, and young crabs, and on the sea-coast, they devour fry of various
sorts. Along with their food, they swallow great quantities of sand or gravel.
At St. Augustine, in Florida, I shot a young bird of this species
immediately under the walls of the fort. Although wounded severely and with one
of its legs broken close to the body, it dived at once. My Newfoundland do,
leaped into the water, and on reaching the spot where the bird had disappeared,
dived also, and in a few moments came up with the poor thing in his mouth. When
the dog approached I observed that the Duck had seized his nose with its bill;
and Ashen I laid bold of it, it tried to bite me also. I have found this
species hard to kill, and when wounded very tenacious of life, swimming and
diving at times to the last gasp.
In the Fauna Boreali-Americana, the tail of the Ruddy Duck is said to be
composed of sixteen feathers, and in NUTTALL'S Manual of twenty; but the number
RUDDY DUCK, Anas rubida, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 137.
FULIGULA RUBIDA, Bonap. Syn., p. 390.
FULIGULA RUBIDA, Ruddy Duck, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 455.
RUDDY DUCK, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 426.
RUDDY DUCK, Fuligula rubida, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 326.
Male, 14 3/4, 21 1/2
Adult Male in summer.
Bill as long as the head, a little higher than broad at the base, depressed
and widened toward the end, which is rounded. Dorsal outline straight and
declinate to the nostrils, then direct and slightly concave, the sides sloping
and concave at the base, broadly convex toward the end, the edges soft, with
about forty short erect lamellae internally on each side, the unguis
linear-oblong, suddenly decurved and directed backwards, its lower part
transversely expanded and serrulate. Nostrils in an oblong depression covered
with skin, medial, rather small, linear-oblong, pervious. Lower mandible
flattened, a little recurved, its angle very long and narrow, the laminae about
a hundred and forty and extremely small, the unguis oblong.
Head rather large, oblong. Eyes of moderate size. Neck short and thick.
Body full, much depressed. Legs short and placed rather far behind; tibia bare
for a short space; tarsus very short, compressed, with an anterior series of
small scutella, an outer short series going to the fourth toe, the rest
reticulated. Hind toe very small, with a free inferior web; anterior toes very
long, slender, the middle toe double the length of the tarsus, the outer almost
as long, the inner considerably shorter, and having a broad lobed margin; the
webs reticulated. Claws rather small, slender, compressed, slightly arched,
Plumage dense, blended, on the upper parts very soft; on the fore part of
the head stiffish; on the lower parts with a silky gloss, and stiff, having the
extremities broad, and the barbs strong and pointed. Wings very short, of
moderate breadth, concave, pointed; primaries tapering, the first longest,
obliquely rounded. Tail short, much graduated, of eighteen stiff, narrow
feathers, of which the shaft is very strong, and runs out in a flattened concave
Bill and edges of eyelids greyish-blue. Iris hazel. Feet dull
greyish-blue; webs inclining to dusky; claws greyish-brown. Upper part of the
head and nape deep bluish-black, that colour running to a point about the middle
of the neck; a large white patch on each side of the head, from the bill to
behind the ear, narrowed on the throat. Neck all round, and all the upper
parts, as well as the sides of the rump, rich glossy brownish-red or chestnut;
the lower parts greyish-white, tinged with brown, and marked with transverse
interrupted bands of dusky. Wing-coverts, quills, and tail-feathers,
Length to end of tail 14 3/4 inches, to end of wings 12 1/2, to end of
claws 15, to carpal joint 7 1/4; extent of wings 21 1/2; wing, from flexure
6 1/4; tail 3 1/2; bill along the ridge 1 5/8, along the edge of lower mandible
1 5/8; tarsus 1 1/4; hind toe and claw (4 1/2)/8; inner toe 1 3/4, its claw 1/4;
middle toe 2 3/8, its claw 3/8; outer toe 2 3/8, its claw 1/4. Weight 1 3/4
lbs. Average measurements of six individuals.
The black on the head of the male is sometimes marked with a few white
Adult Female in summer.
The plumage presents the same characters as in the male. The bill is of a
darker greyish-blue; iris as in the male; feet darker. The top of the head, and
all the upper parts, are dark reddish-brown, minutely dotted and undulated with
dusky; wings and tail as in the male; lower parts duller than in the male, but
similarly marked; the throat, and a band from the base of the upper mandible to
beneath the eye, brownish-white.
Male one year old.
Bill, eyes, and feet as in the adult. A similar white patch on the side of
the head; upper part of head and hind neck dull brackish-brown; throat and sides
of the neck greyish-brown, lower part of neck dull reddish-brown, waved with
dusky; upper parts as in the adult, but of a duller tint; lower parts
Young in December.
Bill dusky; iris hazel; feet yellowish-green, webs dusky. All the upper
parts dull reddish-brown, tinged with grey, and barred with dusky; wings and
tail dark greyish-brown. Cheeks, fore part and sides of neck, and all the lower
parts, dull yellowish-white, undulated with dusky; as is the rump above; the
lower tail-coverts white.
The tongue of a male is 1 inch 8 twelfths long, and of the same general
form as that of the Fuligulae, but a little more dilated at the end. The
oesophagus is 1/2 inch in diameter until its entrance into the thorax, when it
contracts, and again expands to 6 twelfths, to form the proventriculus, of which
the glandules are oblong, small, and very numerous, occupying a space of 2 1/4
inches in length. The stomach is a strong gizzard, of a roundish form, 1 inch 5
twelfths long, 1 1/2 inches broad; its lateral muscles very large, and about 8
twelfths thick; the epithelium confined to two round spaces 1/2 inch in
diameter, opposite the lateral muscles. The intestine is 5 feet 1 1/2 inches
long, its diameter varying from 5 twelfths to 3 1/2 twelfths. The rectum is 2
inches 10 twelfths long; the coeca 4 inches 2 twelfths, their greatest diameter
2 1/2 twelfths.
In another male, the oesophagus is 7 1/2 inches long; the stomach 1 inch 5
twelfths long, 1 inch 6 twelfths broad; the intestine 5 feet 11 inches long; the
rectum 2 3/4 inches; the coeca 4 1/6 inches, their greatest diameter 2 1/2
The trachea is 5 3/4 inches long. The thyroid bone is comparatively large,
forming an expansion 7 twelfths long, 5 twelfths broad. At its upper part the
trachea has a diameter of 3 twelfths, about the middle enlarges to 4 twelfths,
and so continues nearly to the end, when it contracts to 2 twelfths. The last
ring is very large, being formed of five or six united rings, of which the last
two or three are split; but there is no expansion or tympanum as in other Ducks.
The muscles are as in the other species of this family. The bronchi are of
moderate length, with about 15 half rings.