Just so I don’t forget to mention this like I did in the last post, the following topic is another product from our Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve shoot we went on towards the end of last year. Another difference from last post is this one is not as picture scarce. Oh, and indeed there is another major difference but we’ll get to that in a second. With that lead in out of the way, please give a grand welcome to yet another new bird to the blog.
Want to take a shot as to what it is? Hint, it is NOT what I had mistaken it for while out in the field. For some reason I crossed this particular duck up with the Dufflebag, Well, it really isn’t a Dufflebag, but that is what I’ve always called the Bufflehead. Ever have one of those bizarre associations that popped in your head at the second it entered long term memory? No matter how hard you try it just never gets corrected in the gray matter so EVERY time you see it, that is the first thing your brain’s Google engine conjures up. Not knowing at the time that this was a wrong identification, I snapped a few and went on my merry way. This classification error was discovered while hunting down the reference material to post on the blog. Our friend the Dufflebag has the white markings shifted up to the 4th quadrant.. and has a completely different body feather palette, but let’s not get nitpicky.
No worries, this pattern is pretty unique so a few more minutes in the duck reference should clear this mystery right up. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes … later and I’m asking myself what the hell is this bird. Eventually, the Stokes’ guide came through. The problem is, the bird that caught my attention is not a male. Nope, everyone one of the shots in this post are of the female which, for the record, are traditionally harder to identify than the normally more colorful males. The fact these females have a unique coloring threw me off.
Hit the jump to see more pictures of this duck and maybe even confirm your guess as to what it is
If you have not figured it out yet on your own, this particular waterfowl is a female Ruddy Duck. It is difficult to tell from the lighting in these shots, but they have more of blue-teal beak. This does not seem to be as pronounced on the females, but the males have a much more bluer tint. Even their top hat coloring is more blue toned with a much more rustic look on the body feathers. The other aspect that was throwing me off is the reference books indicated they typically swim with their back tail feathers up out of the water at a 45 or so degree angle. The tail is in the water for all the pictures above. Digging a little deeper in the shots discovered this shot. As per the reference books, their tails are out of the water.
Note, the picture above shows two different coloring patterns for the same female Ruddy. The reference books had to be consulted a second time to understand what this was all about. According to Stokes, the coloring on the duck on the right is the standard female coloring (with the extra line), where the back duck (and the ones above) is sporting the female’s Winter look. These birds have a conservation status of Least Concern and according to our friends over at Wikipedia, appear to be causing a little bit of havoc in Europe – spreading out from Great Britain thanks to some of them escaping into the wild – reminds me a lot of the Asian Carp issue those of us in the Midwest waterways are having to deal with thanks to them escaping their confinement in the South.
And there you have about the sum total of interesting information about this bird in all the reference materials I have and quick searches of the web. They are the only stiff tail duck in North America. Rarely seen actually flying (this concurs with my personal observation) and according to the National Geographic reference are sometimes confused with .. wait for it.. Buffleheads – vindicated! Clearly the Ruddy Duck’s Ministry of Information needs to be fired. A final check of the Sibley Guide revealed NOTHING interesting about them beyond the fact they are classified as stiff tails. Sorry readers, I’ve given you everything there is out there with the exception of having a shot of the much more colorful male. We’ll correct that the next time we are in Henderson. Until then we’ll have to settle for Girl Power (as opposed to the last post which only focused on the males).