There are two so-called stiff-tailed ducks in the United States. Both species are small and easy to identify. They dive to feed or escape danger and use their tails as a rudder.
The Ruddy Duck is common and widespread. The similar Masked Duck is a tropical species very rare in the United States. Sometimes reported in the Gulf Coast states from Texas to Florida.
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What you should know:
- The tail can be up or down.
- The males of both species have different breeding and non-breeding plumages.
- Male Ruddy Ducks are much less colorful in winter plumage, but maintain the white cheek.
- Females of the two species are very similar, Ruddy Ducks have a single black mark through the cheek. Masked Duck females have two horizontal streaks on the side of the head.
Rudy Duck — Length: 15 inches, Wing span: 18 inches
While most ducks pair up on the wintering grounds prior to spring, the Ruddy Duck waits until it has returned to its breeding grounds to form pairs. The Ruddy Duck is a nocturnal migrant and usually travels in small groups. Males often arrive on the breeding grounds slightly before females.
The Ruddy Duck has large feet that are set far back on its body to assist in diving. A typical foraging dive lasts about 20 seconds. Male Ruddy Ducks defend a small area around their mates, but do not defend a traditional territory.
Females are a plain gray-brown with a dark line through a white cheek patch. Dark crown. Winter males are similar but lack the line through the eye. Female and winter male Masked Ducks similar but have two lines on the side of the face. Photograph © Alan Wilson.
Male Ruddy Ducks in breeding plumage. Rusty back, strong white cheek, black cap, blue bill and stiff tail. Tail can be up or down.
Masked Duck — Length: 13 inches Wing span: 17 inches
Male Masked Ducks are aggressive and can dominate larger ducks in winter feeding grounds.
Breeding plumaged make has blue bill, black face and reddish body. Females are a mottled brown with two black, horizontal lines across the face.