The ruddy duck is a small duck with distinctive cinnamon-colored plumage and a long pointed tail. It is a species commonly hunted for sport and its highly prized meat throughout much of its range. They are native to North and South America, spending various times of the year in different parts of their range or just passing through areas on migratory paths.
The ruddy duck is found living permanently in much of northern Mexico, southwest California as well as southern New Mexico and Arizona. Smaller year-round populations range a little further north into Nevada, Utah and Oregon. The ducks can also be found living year-round in the Caribbean. When not breeding, these populations live mainly in shallow freshwater marshes and sometimes coastal bay areas with more brackish water. Because the ducks' legs are set far back on their bodies they do not often walk on land but instead remain mainly on the water. The leg position helps to improve the ducks' speed while swimming.
During the summer breeding season some ducks migrate further north, reaching breeding grounds around May each year. The males arrive first and lay claim to nesting sites in preparation for the females' arrival. The breeding range begins as far south as northern New Mexico and Arizona and extends north as far as Canada's Northwest Territories. The extreme western part of the birds' breeding range is central Washington and extends as far east as western Minnesota. During the breeding season the ducks are found mainly in freshwater marshes, lakes and ponds.
The breeding season comes to a close around August and the migratory ducks begin to return back to winter ranges. The return path often takes them through parts of southeastern Canada, the Midwest and the northeastern U.S. The ducks may stop to rest along the way in freshwater bodies of water, but will generally only be in the regions for a short time on their way south. While migrating, the ducks move mainly at night in large flocks keeping relatively close to the ground. They find it hard to take off when required, having to run along the water's surface, flapping their wings until they achieve lift.
The eventual winter destinations of the ruddy duck include the southeastern states of Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and the most extreme southern U.S. coastline. Smaller populations are found wintering on the West Coast in northern California, western Oregon and southern Arizona. Some ducks also travel down as far as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.