In the early hours of that Tuesday morning, I sighted an adult male Ruddy Duck. Quickly returned home and with Lidija accompanying me as the official photographer, we documented only the second record for a Ruddy Duck in Labrador! With a little research through our e-mail birding group, we soon determined that the only other record (from Brian Dalzell’s Labrador database) was a male at Little Wabush Lake on 18 May 2004, seen by Lee Preziosi. This first record was in amongst 30 or so Greater Scaups on Little Wabush Lake near the Float Plane Dock in western Labrador.
The Ruddy Duck has quite distinct markings - blue bill, light brown body with black crown and white auriculars (sides of the head around the ears). It has an upturned tail and is typically quiet, only making calls during courtship. During this time the male will create little popping noises. The Ruddy Duck is amongst the well-known “stiff-tailed ducks” and is adept at diving and sinking below the water surface. They are nocturnal, usually sleeping during the day and feeding at night. On several time between May 17 and May 23, I observed the Ruddy Duck being pushed along the surface of the water by wind, tucked up in a little ball, sound asleep.
The Ruddy Duck’s range extends across North America into Mexico and is general a mid-western breeder. Ruddy Ducks prefer open freshwater and wetlands where they dine on tubers and seeds of aquatic vegetation as well as small fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic insect larvae. Whilst foraging, the Ruddy duck will dive under the water and filter mud through its bill.
It seems that each year we observe a couple of rare species of birds in Labrador. Most often it occurs during the spring or fall when birds are generally migrating to or from their breeding grounds. Some birds may be blown off course by strange weather events others may be a result of expanding populations. In other cases, odd bird sightings may just be the occurrences of young birds dispersing individually seeking new habitat to reside at.
It’s difficult to determine if these rare sightings are on the increase in recent years or even if they are related to changing weather or climate conditions. They may just be the result of more people making observations and the ease of communicating and recording these events with the advances in electronic media.
Whatever the reason, the possibility of seeing a rare bird adds to the challenge and excitement of birding!
Tony Chubbs is a Wildlife Biologist, Naturalist and Outdoor Writer. Tony resides in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and can be contacted at email@example.com