Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Ruddy Morning

Participating in the January waterfowl count at South Platte Park this morning, I was fortunate to be placed in the Reservoir group, offering me another opportunity to observe the yellow-billed loon that has been wintering in Littleton.  While the temperature was mild, a strong south wind produced a choppy surface across the partly-frozen reservoir and an uncomfortable wind-chill on the levee.

A host of diving ducks joined the celebrity loon, including lesser scaup, buffleheads and common goldeneyes.  But the highlight of our count was a large number of ruddy ducks, small, stiff-tailed divers that are primarily winter residents along the Front Range.  After breeding in the prairie pothole country of the northern Great Plains and Western Canada, ruddies head for large rivers, lakes reservoirs and coastal estuaries across the southern U.S. and the Pacific Northwest.  There they are often seen in large rafts, bobbing in the waves and waiting for dawn or dusk when they tend to be most active.

Ruddy ducks dive to feed on both aquatic invertebrates and aquatic plants.  Despite their small size and comical appearance, they are aggressive and territorial during the breeding season and produce rather precocious youngsters that are independent within a couple weeks.  Though abundant in some coastal regions during the winter months, ruddies are always a welcome sight when they join more common waterfowl species on inland lakes and reservoirs.