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Ruddy Duck


Ruddy Duck


The definitive website on wildbirds & nature



Birds of America

By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.

VOLUME VI.

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Family
Genus

RUDDY DUCK.
[Ruddy Duck.]

FULIGULA RUBIDA, Wils.
[Oxyura jamaicensis.]

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 numerous rivers.

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 is eighteen.

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, acute.

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 point.

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, brackish-brown.

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 feathers.

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 greyish-white.

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 twelfths.

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.

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