In its own mind, the diminutive male ruddy duck is king of the water and he wants everyone to know it.
Waterfowl are beginning to pour into area marshes and wet spots where winter snowmelt has yet to drain off. From the subtle but beautiful hues of the graceful pintail to the strikingly vivid wood duck, the males are resplendent in their breeding colors as they woo the ladies of their species.
It is the ruddy duck though, that charms my heart. This is one of the smallest ducks on the water, yet the males parade about like professional wrestlers—chests puffed out and heads high on short thick necks and for their size, incredibly pugnacious. They will tolerate no other species including their own and according to Cornell’s All About Birds website, may even chase rabbits grazing along the shore.
Like most other springtime ducks, ruddy duck males are handsome as well. They sport a black cap with a large white cheek patch and a chestnut colored body. Their most distinctive features though occur at opposite ends of their bodies.
The bill of a breeding male ruddy duck is sky blue, creating instant recognition for observers. The greater scaup is actually known as the bluebill, but to me, the male ruddy duck’s bill is far more blue. After the breeding season, this characteristic fades to gray.
At the opposite end rides a long spiky tail, much longer than most other ducks. More, this tail is often cocked nearly straight up, giving the ruddy duck a jaunty and distinctive look. My wife says that a ruddy duck reminds her of a rubber duckie—cute, small, compact, large-billed and perky-tailed—and when I think about it, except for the color she is right. In all, the ruddy duck is one of the most distinctive and easily recognizable birds on the water.
Ruddy ducks are native to western North America. About 85 percent breed in the prairie pothole region which runs across southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, eastern North and South Dakota and western Minnesota but much of the Intermountain West has resident populations as well. Some populations migrate to Mexico and Central America as well as the Gulf Coast states.
The ruddy duck is truly a bird of the water. It is a diving duck, spending its feeding time, mostly at night, diving to the bottom of the pond and scooping up bottom mud and straining invertebrates out of it with its bill.
Ruddy ducks are fast strong fliers, capable of long migrations, but they tend to fly straight without a lot of weaving and dodging. Their best predator avoidance system is to dive under the water and emerge yards away.
Ruddy ducks select mates once they are on the breeding waters. Typically, this is a monogamous arrangement but with a new partner each year. Males perform by rapidly beating their bill against their inflated neck to attract females.
Once the pair mates the female lays a clutch of white eggs with textured surfaces. Proportionally, these eggs are the largest eggs among the ducks. Ducklings hatch well-formed and mother offers minimal parental services once they take to the water.
Over the next month or two, ruddy ducks will be fairly common on area wetlands. Don’t miss your chance to become acquainted with one. Just don’t let it bully you.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
Help Idaho Wildlife
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho