Ruddy Bubbles

11 April 2014

Ruddy ducks are migrating through Pennsylvania right now but we’re not going to see the most interesting part of their lives because they reserve it for their breeding grounds in the prairie potholes of North America.

Unlike most ducks, ruddies don’t court while they’re away from home nor do they molt into breeding plumage before they begin migration.  Instead they save their efforts for the big splash on the breeding grounds.  At that point the males will be a deep ruddy color and their bills will be sky blue.  They show off this beauty in an exaggerated bubble display.

Cornell’s Birds of North America describes the display like this (paraphrased):  “The male holds his head, tail and two rows of head feathers (“horns”) erect.  His inflates his neck and begins beating his bill slowly at first against his neck, forcing air out of the feathers.  This causes bubbles to appear in the water.  His beating intensifies toward the end of the display with a concomitant movement of his tail over his back and his head slightly forward over the water.  And then he utters a low belching sound.”

Who knew that male ruddy ducks bubble and burp?  I’m going to have to go West to see it.

(video from YouTube)

3 thoughts on “Ruddy Bubbles

  1. I have never witnessed the display above, but I do hold ruddies dear for one reason now. The only bird I’ve ever held so far after becoming a birder is a ruddy. Longish story shortish, it was a stunned bird in the middle of the street pushing itself across the street as lines of cars kept driving. When someone finally registered that it was a living organism, not a black bag dropped on the street, I was able to position myself in front of the bird and it pushed itself right into my hands. What I want to relate from my up close experience is two things. One, if you think that ruddies are small, you are wrong. They are VERY small. Imagine a woman’s hand in a mitten. Well, the bird fit snuggly on the palm of one mittened hand. Two, the feet are soooo long, based way back the the rear of the body and substantial. The feet were almost the whole length of the body. Because of the positioning of the feet, it could barely propel itself across the street. Once in hand, it relaxed entirely as if it knew somehow that it was out of danger. For as long as I live, I’ll never forget holding that bird.

  2. Very cool story kc!!

    I saw Ruddy’s display this past summer when I was near Kamloops, BC. It was so cool. The colors were so vivid, and the sounds and motions were very fun to watch.

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