Foam Lake Birding No. 55

No. 55
With the ripening of the saskatoons, pincherries and chokecherries our backyard has become a hive of activity for fruit loving birds. These include species such as Robins, Cedar Waxwings, House Sparrows, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Catbirds and Flickers. Most of these birds are well known as fruit eaters, but the House Sparrow, Catbird and Flicker were complete surprises to me. Most surprising was that the Catbird came within a metre of me as I was picking pincherries and proceeded to loudly scold me – for picking her fruit, I presume. I could actually see the anger in her eyes, and she certainly gave me the impression that I was not welcome there.
Because of the rainy weather we have had in the last couple of weeks, I felt that another article about a duck was in order. This week’s duck of choice, the Ruddy Duck, is an oddity that is considered to be a remnant of an ancient group of ducks called stiff tails. The only other stiff tail in North America is the Masked Duck – a Mexican species that is a rare visitor to the very southern part of Texas. On the other hand, the Ruddy Duck is very common throughout North America. Being a diving duck it can be found on any slough that does not dry out during the summer.
The male Ruddy Duck is one of the most recognizable ducks on the pond; the female, like most ducks, is typically a drab grey brown. As its name implies, the male is rusty red with a black head and striking white face. The bill is a bright sky blue. If these characteristics are not enough, then its odd habit of cocking its tail more or less vertically in the air as it is swimming giving it a two headed appearance should clinch its identification. Both males and females often swim this way. In the spring the males makes a very distinguishable sound. To me it sounds like a popping rattle that lasts for a second or two speeding up towards the end. When viewed the head bobs up and down more or less in time with the sound. Another interesting feature of this bird, that is of no use whatsoever in identifying it, is that the female Ruddy Duck lays one of the largest eggs in proportion to body size of any bird in the world. Unlike most ducks that lay large clutches of eggs, the female Ruddy lays only one or two. Who could blame her.
For those of you who enjoy watching and identifying ducks, this one is a good choice. This small unique diver is common and easy to identify. This week’s photo was taken just east of Tuffnell across from the Margo Road.