Cattail View: Ruddy Duck 017 Makes Duck Cam Debut
Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor on 06/23/2014
Move over puddle ducks, because for the first time since its inception, a diving duck has stolen the Delta Waterfowl Duck Cam spotlight.
Ruddy Duck 017 is the newest star of Delta’s streaming prairie pothole region Web camera. She and her giant clutch — Ruddy Duck 017 sits atop 16 eggs that are the largest relative to body size among ducks — will be under constant surveillance by a worldwide audience at deltaduckcam.com.
“This is a uniquely special moment for waterfowl lovers,” said Joel Brice, Delta Waterfowl vice president of conservation and hunter recruitment. “Diving ducks, and especially ruddy ducks, have interesting breeding and nesting habitats that most folks likely aren’t aware of.”
Unlike dabbling ducks such as mallard or pintails that nest on land, most diving duck species lay eggs in a floating nest often attached to cattails or bulrush. Ruddy Duck 017’s floating nest is clearly visible on the Duck Cam.
Most ruddy ducks also don’t breed until 2 years of age, with an average clutch size of eight eggs. With 16 eggs in 017’s nest bowl, there’s a good chance some were laid by other females, a reproductive strategy called brood parasitism. By laying some of their eggs in another female’s nest, the energy cost of incubation is passed onto another hen.
Field techs were able to judge the age of Ruddy Duck 017’s nest at 8 to 10 days, which puts their expected hatch date around July 6, although it could go as late as July 11. Estimating the incubation stage of diving ducks is difficult because they have thicker eggshells compared to those of puddle ducks. Traditional candling methods don’t work, so eggs instead must be floated in water to determine age of development. Rudy ducks have an incubation period of 20 to 26 days.
Delta Duck Cam already had one successful nesting for the 2014 breeding season. Blue-Winged Teal 007’s brood safely hatched June 13. Field technicians have struggled to find more nests in the field, a non-trapped quarter section in northcentral North Dakota. The predators, it seems, have been eating well.
“Although a few have hatched, just about every nest we found has been depredated,” said Luke Gilbert, a field technician charged with keeping the Duck Cam on a fresh nest. “We decided to give searching for overwater nesters a try, and luckily stumbled on this ruddy duck nest. We couldn’t believe how many eggs were in there.”
So now, a diving duck stars on a live-streaming Web cam, which broadcasts the reality of life on the prairies. We know now that Blue-Winged Teal 007 was extremely lucky to survive and hatch her clutch in this predator-rich environment. Will Ruddy Duck 017 experience the same fortune, or does her nest’s fate lie in the hungry mouths of a nest-raiding raccoon, mink or skunk? Stay tuned to the Delta Duck Cam to find out!