By Dan Weisz
Yes, we have ducks in the desert wherever we have permanent bodies of water (ponds or lakes in parks or golf courses). And some of those ducks look really spectacular.
There have been a few Wood Ducks wintering at Sweetwater Wetlands this year. Male Wood Ducks have very gaudy, unmistakable plumage. They have an iridescent green “helmet” cut with white stripes along with a chestnut colored breast and buffy sides. They have red eyes and red/white/and-black bills that accessorize their look very well.
And here is one of my favorite kinds of photos: a look at the Wood Duck’s nictitating membrane (the translucent eyelid). He can blink while maintaining a watch of his surroundings.
Wood Ducks have an interesting range with many of them living year-round on both sides of America while some wood ducks migrate north for the winter and some migrate south. Check out their range map:
Another more common duck in Tucson and at Sweetwater is the Ruddy Duck. They do live in Tucson year-round but more of them arrive for the winter (range map below).
This male is showing typical winter plumage: a dull gray-brown body with a dull gray bill, a blackish cap and an off-white face. He’s pretty plain looking in the winter but when he gets his breeding plumage- watch out ladies!! This fellow’s beak is beginning to turn blue at the base……
Here is another male in full breeding plumage. His beak has turned bright blue and his body is now very ruddy colored. His cap is darker and his face white. Ruddy ducks also have very wide tails that are often held upright, although not with this one. This duck was busy diving for food and you can see water droplets on its face. Ruddy ducks dive to the bottom of ponds and forage for insects and invertebrates, but much of their diet in winter is plant material.
Here goes a dive, head first with an arched back and a flared tail. Those feet are paddling furiously.
And like the flukes of a whale, the tail of a Ruddy Duck is the last thing you see when they dive for food.
Here is a preening female Ruddy Duck. You can tell she is a female by the lighter cap and the blurry stripe across her cheek. Here she is cleaning her tail feathers.
Just look at how far these small ducks travel every year!