Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ruddy Ducks: Late March Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

A small flock of Ruddy Ducks in winter plumage; Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.

Ruddy Ducks (female left, male right) in breeding plumage, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 4/23/11
Ruddy Ducks are a unique little diving duck with a large head for its size (only 15" in length). Ruddies travel in tightly clustered flocks and are a common sight in Northern Illinois ponds, lakes, and sheltered bays during spring Migration. They usually do not mix or travel with other species. They winter in the southern half of the U.S., along all the coastal regions and into Mexico, Central and South America (Top photo while they were intheir winter home in Aizona). They will migrate to their summer homes of the North Central Plains States, into Canada and parts of Alaska. They reach Northern Illinois around late March. Flocks of Ruddies have been on Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park (Above)  for a several of weeks this Spring. In fact I was there yesterday, and was lucky to get some nice shots of the Ruddies. They usually stay well away from the shore if they see people, but yesterday a couple of them didn't shy away as I approached.

They will be found year round in the Rockies to the Pacific Coastline and down into the Baja Peninsula as well as much of Mexico. However, there are pockets along the Midwest and Great Lakes where Ruddy Ducks will stay all summer and not even bother migrating further North or West. North Pond in Chicago, and Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Preserve in Wisconsin are two such areas. I am planning on travelling north to Horicon Marsh today (Easter Sunday), perhaps I'll see some more Ruddies there.

A male Ruddy Duck in its winter plumage, Phoenix AZ; 12/27/09.
The first time I saw Ruddy Ducks was while I was in Phoenix, Arizona, in the December of 2009, and they were in their winter plumage (Above).  At the time I didn't know what they looked like in their summer breeding plumage. They turn a beautiful; reddish "ruddy" brown, contrasted dramatically with a black head and tail (which is often lifted in a vertical position), snow-white cheek and a bright blue bill (very appropriate Easter color). The first time I saw this was this Spring while exploring the North Pond in Lincoln Park, Chicago (Below).  Then several times at Rock Cut State Park (Below 2nd photo).
The male Ruddy Duck in all its breeding plumage glory, with its signature
 lifted black tail, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 3/30/11.
Male Ruddy Duck, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/11.

A female Ruddy Duck, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL; 3/30/11.

A female Ruddy Duck just reemerged from a dive, Rock Cut State Park,IL; 4/23/11.
Female Ruddies (Above) are less colorful with a brownish gray body, and a darker back, head, and tail. They will also have a whitish cheek, but not as snowy white as the males, but will have an added dark stripe across its cheek. Their bills do not turn bright blue as the males.

 Next weekend I will continue my series featuring Spring Migration birds of Northern Illinois: Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Horned Grebes. Hope you can visit.

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