Ruddy Ducks!!!

This week we are looking at the Ruddy Duck.

A friend of mine recently told me that he had seen one on the canal outside his flat, and that it looked quite nice.  What better duck to focus on for this blog, I thought.

The Ruddy Duck is a native of North and South America, inhabiting marshes and ponds.

The male Ruddy Duck

A Ruddy Drake!!! The Male Ruddy Duck, image source http://www.copyright-free-photos.org.uk/ducks/23-ruddy-duck.htm

The drake is brown, with a black and white head and a quite striking blue bill.  Here’s a picture.  I confess I’ve never seen one; I would definitely have remembered the bill.

The female – the duck – resembles a mallard duck in that it is speckled brown, but has a much darker bill.  They feed on seeds, aquatic insects and crustaceans.

In the UK, they’re based in the West Midlands, the north of England,

Female Ruddy Duck, image source http://www.pbase.com/indaba/image/51587404

Anglesey and south Scotland.  It was introduced to Europe in the 1940s, and has flourished in our temperate climate, which brings me on to the interesting fact about the Ruddy Duck.

Like I said, they flourished, and began to interbreed with other species, most notably the endangered White-headed Duck, a native of Spain and much of Southern Europe.  This led to government sponsored eradication programmes.  The Ruddy Duck did so well, especially in the UK, that it was seen as a threat to native European species and the decision was taken to get rid of them.  Even the RSPB supported the widespread culling of Ruddys, saying that they were concerned for the White-headed duck’s existence as the expense of the interlopers.

Between 2005 and 2010, almost £5million was apparently spent on a concerted effort to rid the UK of Ruddys.  There was even a rather tongue-in-beak obituary published by the BBC.  There are now only 150 left, and so my friend was very lucky to see one.  I’m jealous.  Although the cull has officially ended in Britain, in Spain it’s still going strong with eight birds being shot in 2008.

So next time you see a Ruddy Duck, relish the moment.  You never know: it might be the last one in Europe!

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Can’t take a duck to water…

The gentleman who set me the challenge of ten facts about ten ducks recently returned from down under, so it seemed apt to write about a duck found only in Australia.

Male Australian Wood Duck

Male Australian Wood Duck

This brings me to the Australian Wood Duck: and here it is.  A pretty thing, I think.

It is widespread throughout the continent, is abundant and lays up to twelve eggs in a nest.  The male is pictured on the left, and the female is very similar but has white stripes above and below the eye.  It is currently placed in the order Anatinae, along with many other species of dabbling duck, those which do not dive for food.  However, the last duck I wrote about was the shelduck, and there appears to be some debate among anseriformologists (that word again!) as to whether the Australian Wood Duck should belong in that subfamily.

What is interesting about this duck, given that it’s classified along with other dabblers, is that apparently it is predominantly land based.  It rarely swims, and when it does, doesn’t do it particularly well.  Instead it walks and runs easily.  Anyone who has ever seen a duck walk knows this is quite odd…and funny.

So, from a flightless to duck, to a swim-less duck.  I wonder what the next –less will be.

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A new addition…

First a grovelling apology: it’s been ages since I wrote here.  I’m sorry, and I’m grovelling.  I hope this small ditty somehow makes up for my lack of duckery.

In something of a break with the tradition of the challenge set me by my friend, I am not going to talk about a species of duck, but about one individual

Bertie

in particular.

I would like to introduce a new addition to my household.  He was a gift from my girlfriend and his name is Bertie.  Here he is, in all his anseriformous glory.

Bertie is the most elegant of drakes, standing proudly on my window sill, surveying his new empire.  He is quiet and serene, not given to quacking at guests or invaders.  He has made friends easily and gets on well with the two penguins also in my living room.  He embodies grace and charm, is sleek, smooth to the touch and lovely to look at.  I like him very much indeed.

That’s it for now.  I promise a lengthier post in the very near future.

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and the good news…

The good news is, he who set me the challenge of ten facts about ten ducks has allowed the Shelduck article. Bonzer!

Anyway, another duck is on its way. Watch this space.

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and a bonus…

As a wee bonus for being so tardy with a new duck, here’s a pic a friend sent me.  I found it funny…

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The Shelduck

OK, so once again, apologies for not writing.  So much for my new years’ resolution to do better.  I also owe a second apology: the subject of today’s literary masterpiece is not quite a duck, it’s a Shelduck.  These birds are still Anseriformes.  They occupy a subfamily in that order called Tadorninae, and in terms of size, are somewhere between geese and ducks.  They are much larger than ordinary ducks, very much larger.  On a recent trip to Cambridgeshire I came across a flock of them, and they’re huge!  To be honest, I actually thought they were geese at first.  Like geese they were fairly aggressive, and did a good job fighting off the mallards at feeding time.

There are seven species of Shelduck, but the one I’m going to focus on, is the Common Shelduck, because I’ve seen it.  Common Shelducks are found across Europe all year round, with large populations in the UK and Germany.  There are several migrating flocks which spend their summers in the area north of the Black and Caspian Seas and their winters on the coast of the Mediterranean and as far east as the coast of China.

In terms of appearance the duck and drake are very similar, but the drake of the Common Shelduck (pictured) has a prominent knob at the top of the bill.  To me, this is what makes it look like even more like a goose.  During the breeding season, they have a strong collective mentality, with breeding pairs often leaving their hatchlings to form larger broods, in the care of one or two adult birds.

The slightly peculiar fact about the Shelduck, is not that they are ducks-but-not-ducks, but that they shed and re-grow wing and tail feathers at the same time.  When this happens they are flightless for almost four weeks.

Now, it is implied from what I have read that, other than a few birds hatched outside the normal breeding season, all the Shelducks go through this flightless period at the same time.  Personally, I find it hard to accept that an entire species would ground itself for four weeks, and leave itself so open to predators.  The flipside to this is that the Shelducks form flocks of several thousand, so their safety and survival is assured in numbers, but I’m still not convinced.  If anyone can confirm this one way or the other, I’d be very grateful.  Like I said, I can well understand an individual grounding itself to replace feathers, but not the vast majority of Shelducks in a single flock.

So that’s the Common Shelduck, which I think still warrants an entry on this masterpiece of research.  I haven’t confirmed yet, but I don’t think the friend who challenged me to write about ten ducks will let me away with writing about the other seven species of Shelduck, so I’d better start looking for another one.

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It’s been a while…

Right, I confess I have been very lax in meeting the challenge of ten ducks and ten facts.  To all my adoring fans, apologies for this shocking lapse.  After a lengthy hiatus stemming not just from the festive season and all the delays that come that time of year, here is another duck and fact.

This is the Tufted Duck, or Aythya fuligula, to give it its full name.  It’s a duck which thrives in most of Europe and Asia with sizable flocks as far east as Japan.  Although migratory, the birds can be seen the whole year round in the UK, though they tend to winter in the south.  From my own observation, they seem to live quite happily alongside other breeds of duck, especially the Mallard. They will squabble when people feed them, but other than that there seems to be no great rivalry between them.

The drake is black and white with a little tuft at the back of the head (hence the name) and the duck is dark brown.  Both have striking yellow eyes, which gives them a very eerie expression.

The “interesting fact” about them, is that they apparently throve in the UK due to the spread of freshwater mussels in the nineteenth century.  Tufted ducks are divers and feed on aquatic insects and some plant matter but their dishes of choice are molluscs, crustaceans and shellfish.  The spread in the late nineteenth century of the Zebra Mussel prompted a similar rise in the number of Tufted Ducks, as there was now a plentiful food supply.  Zebra Mussels are a fairly invasive species and, having been introduced in Cambridgeshire in the 1820s, had been spotted in Edinburgh by the 1830s.  Simple cause and effect: the more mussels there were, the more ducks there were.

Apropos of nothing, here is the link for the Tufted Duck Hotel in Fraserburgh, Scotland.  I have never been there and until today had never actually heard of it, so can’t make any recommendations.  That said, it looks quite nice, and the views are good.  If anyone has been there, or plans to, let me know what it’s like.

Once again, apologies for not posting sooner.  I promise to do better in future!

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