This lone, female Ruddy Duck has been paddling around Lake Cheston for the last two weeks. Unlike mallards and other “dabbling” ducks that feed by poking around on the surface of the water, ruddy ducks dive down and feed on aquatic invertebrates under the surface. Their dive starts with a short leap, then the birds take a vigorous plunge, propelling themselves through the water with strokes of their feet (they have some of the largest feet of any waterbird). They stay down for about half a minute at a time as they probe the bottom of the lake. Midge larvae are their favorite food.
Ruddy ducks are “stiff tailed” ducks. The photos above show the bird with these spiky feathers cocked, but they are more often held down, flat against the water surface.
This species breeds mostly in the “prairie pothole” region of the upper midwest and Canada, then winters along the coasts and on southern lakes. This is the first one I’ve seen in Sewanee, although they can be fairly common on the larger lakes around Winchester and Stevenson.