A flock of Ruddy Ducks have amassed in the small cove in front of our house. Last week there were one or two males. Today I counted twenty. The Ruddy Duck has to be on your "must see" list, even if you are otherwise uninterested in birds. Look for the males over the next six weeks as they come into full breeding plumage. They have bright blue bills. I have no idea what evolutionary advantage accrued to individuals with this trait. In the marshes and ponds where Ruddies mingle with dozens of other ducks and geese, they alone sport a blue bill. And only during mating season.
Soon you will see those splendid skeins of waterfowl flying north and heralding spring. This sight has fascinated for centuries. On the walls and temples of the Nile, ancient artists stylized ducks and geese. Zeus became a swan for Leda. Waterfowl are prized for their down which remains warm and dry under their thick waterproof feathers. Some have elaborate courtship displays. Most have blunt bills with a hard tip, and tongues with serration that allows them to filter fine food particles from water or mud. Generally, the males are flashy and the females a drab brown that disguises them as they incubate their eggs in their marshy nests. Look for these birds in a wetland near you. And watch for a small, round duck with a very stiff tail, flying low with rapid wing beats. Get a good look. If his bill is blue, it is a Ruddy Duck dressed for action.