USGS



BIOLOGICAL AND ECOTOXICOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF TERRESTRIAL VERTEBRATE SPECIES RESIDING IN ESTUARIES

Ruddy Duck Ruddy Duck photo by J.A. Spendelow
(Photo by J. A. Spendelow)
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Biological Characteristics

Species Oxyura jamaicensis is 35-40 cm in length. Males tend to have a greater average mass (590 grams) than females (499 grams) (Dunning, 1993) In breeding plumage, the male’s body is a chestnut color, with a black cap and white cheeks (Bull and Farrand, 1977). The tail is fan-shaped. Chicks are whitish until acquiring brown adult plumage. Ruddy ducks are unable to walk.
Status in Estuaries Breeder. Ruddy ducks are found primarily in wetlands with patches of open water, including ponds and salt marshes. Freshwater locations are preferred to saltwater locations (Cramp, 1977) Nests are located in vegetation, and typical clutch size is between 5-15 eggs. Ruddy ducks are brood parasites, laying eggs in nests of ducks of the same or different species (Ehrlich et al., 1988). Young are precocial (Ehrlich et al., 1988). The maximum age of a ruddy duck recorded from nature is 13 years (Clapp et al., 1983).
Abundance and Range Winters along the east coast north to Massachusetts. Localized breeding areas are found in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Nesting also occurs in areas surrounding the Great Lakes (Peterson, 1980). Ruddy ducks wintering on the Atlantic Flyway in 1981 numbered 74,850 (Novara and Voelzer, 1987).
Site Fidelity Unknown
Ease of Census Moderate
Feeding Habits Generalist. Breeding ducks feed predominantly by diving underwater and straining mud from the bottom, but may occasionally skim the surface (Clapp et al., 1982). Both plant and animal matter is consumed though preferences vary with age, season, and location (Clapp et al., 1982). Specific food items include midge larvae, water boatmen, brine flies, leaches, dragonfly nymphs, shrimps, snails, mollusks, and clams (Euliss et al.,1991).

Ruddy Duck Contaminant Exposure Data

I.

Organochlorine Contaminants

1.

Organochlorine and metal residues were determined in whole carcass samples from 4 immature (2 male and 2 female) and 4 adult (2 male and 2 female) ruddy ducks following a 1973 oil spill in the Delaware River which killed approximately two thousand birds (White and Kaiser, 1976). Skin, beak, feet, gastrointestinal tract and liver were removed prior to analysis. Mean (standard error) residue concentrations of DDE and PCBs were 2.6 (0.41) and 5.7 (0.93) g/g wet weight, respectively. Mean levels of DDD, DDT, dieldrin, and HCB were <0.24 g/g.

2.

Seven ruddy ducks were collected from Klamath Basin in Oregon and California in 1979-82 for contaminant analysis (Frenzel and Anthony, 1989). DDE was detected in six specimens at a geometric mean of 0.252 g/g wet weight. PCBs were detected in four specimens at a mean of 0.124 g/g. One bird contained 0.29 g/g DDT and two birds contained 0.02 and 0.01 g/g heptachlor epoxide. One ruddy duck that had been preyed upon by an eagle contained 0.04 g/g DDE.

3.

In 1989, six ruddy ducks were collected from Suisun Bay and Tomales Bay located in San Francisco Bay (Melancon et al.,1992). Total PCBs were highest in the ducks from Suisun Bay, 0.38 g/g wet weight, compared to Tomales Bay, 0.04 g/g.

II.

Cholinesterase-Inhibiting Pesticides

 

No direct exposure data available

III.

Trace Elements, Metals and Metalloids

1.

Mean (standard error) levels of Pb, Cd, and Hg in liver samples collected from ruddy ducks after the 1973 oil spill in the Delaware River were 0.35(0.06), 0.61(0.15), and 0.18(0.08) g/g wet weight, respectively (White and Kaiser, 1976).

2.

During the winters of 1973 to 1975 and 1976 to 1977, approximately 1,200 ruddy ducks found dead or dying during cleanup attempts after 4 oil spills at 4 sites on the Delaware River were examined for lead shot (Perry and Artmann, 1979). The percent of ducks from the 4 sites with ingested shot in the gizzard ranged from 0% to 2.6% and the overall incidence of ingested shot was approximately 1%. Of 66 birds with embedded shot, 70% only had one shot embedded whereas only 8 birds contained 3 or more shot pellets. Adults were more likely to have embedded shot than juveniles.

3.

In 1976-77 and 1979-80, 20 ruddy ducks were collected from the Chesapeake Bay region for metal analysis (Di Giulio and Scanlon, 1984). Mean (range) Cd concentrations were 0.82 (0.18-2.14) g/g dry weight in liver, and 2.72 (0.29-6.90) g/g in kidney. Mean Pb values were <0.5 g/g in the liver, 3.9 (<0.5-33.6)g/g in kidney, and 10.7 (<0.5-43.4) g/g in ulnar bones. Mean Zn concentrations were 104 (35-251) in liver, 73 (57-88) g/g in kidney, and 176 (130-253) g/g in ulnar bones. Copper occurred at a mean concentrations of 39.5 (4.8-154.2) g/g in liver and 10.6 (5.7-22.5)g/g in kidney.

4.

Seven ruddy ducks were collected from Klamath Basin in Oregon and California in 1979-82 for contaminant analysis (Frenzel and Anthony, 1989). Mercury and Pb were detected in all specimens, at geometric means of 0.071 and 1.878 g/g, respectively. One ruddy duck that had been preyed upon by an eagle contained 0.01 g/g Hg and 0.22 g/g Pb.

5.

Liver samples from ruddy ducks were collected for heavy metals analysis during the winters of 1987-1988 and 1988-1989 from Baltimore Harbor and the Rhode River (Tome, unpublished). The mean of Cd concentration in males from Baltimore Harbor was 0.85 g/g dry weight compared to a slightly higher level, 1.08 g/g at Rhode River. Mean and range Cd concentrations for females at both locations (0.63 and 0.25-1.6; and 0.31and 0.25-0.37 g/g) are similar to levels in males. Chromium levels in males and females were 0.35 (<0.91) and 1.95 (0.1-3.8) g/g from Rhode River and 0.23 (<0.4) and 0.29 (0.2-0.43) from the Harbor samples. Selenium concentrations for males and females from both locations ranged from 11.69 (6.8-28.5) g/g for males in the Harbor to 29.83 (7.8-140) g/g for males in the river. Mean Hg concentrations were lower in both sexes ranging from 0.27 (0.09-0.63) g/g to 0.48 (0.22-1.1) g/g. Mean Pb values were slightly higher in males from both sites (0.5, 0.20-0.98 g/g) compared to about 0.32, (0.09-0.57) g/g in females.

6.

In 1977, no lead shot was detected in seven ruddy ducks were collected at or near the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge (Trost, 1980).

7.

Samples of breast muscle and liver were collected in 1982-1985 from 25 ruddy ducks at the Tulare Lake Drainage District evaporation ponds located in California for determination of Se residues (Barnum and Gilmer, 1988). Selenium was detected in all samples of liver and breast muscle of these ducks. The geometric mean concentration of Se was 37.3 g/g dry weight, with levels ranging from 14 to 120 g/g.

IV.

Petroleum

 

No exposure data available

Ruddy Duck Contaminant Response Data

I.

Organochlorine Contaminants

1.

In 1989, six ruddy ducks were collected from Suisun Bay and Tomales Bay located in San Francisco Bay (Melancon et al.,1992). Total PCBs were highest in the ducks from Suisun Bay, 0.38 g/g wet weight, compared to Tomales Bay, 0.04 g/g. Accordingly, levels of BROD, EROD, PROD, ECOD, and AHH were higher in the samples from Suisun Bay.

II.

Cholinesterase-Inhibiting Pesticides

 

No data available

III.

Trace Elements, Metals and Metalloids

1.

In March 1989, 6 ruddy ducks were collected from Tomales Bay and Suisun Bay located in San Francisco Bay (Hoffman et al., 1997). There were no statistically significant differences in the geometric means of Hg, Se, or Cd residues between the Tomales Bay and Suisun Bay sites. Selenium levels, however were slightly higher at 41 g/g dry weight at Suisun Bay compared to 27 g/g at Tomales Bay. Significant differences were noted when examining heart weight and liver weight between the two sites. Specifically, heart weight, liver weight and glutathione levels were significantly higher at Tomales Bay compared to Suisun Bay. Oxidized glutathione and glutathione peroxidase were significantly higher at Suisun Bay.

IV.

Petroleum

1.

In 1937, 25 ruddy ducks were found dead from exposure to oil at Bolinas Lagoon, near San Francisco Bay, after oil was discharged into the bay when the tanker Frank H. Buck was struck by the passenger steamer President Coolidge (Moffitt and Orr, 1938).

2.

From 1973 to 1976 over 1 million gallons of oil were spilled in the Delaware River, resulting in the death of approximately 12,500 ruddy ducks (Perry and Artmann, 1979).

3.

Necropsies were conducted on 12 ruddy ducks collected in 1980 after a number 6 fuel oil spill (Langenberg and Dein, 1983). Seven of the 12 birds examined had hemorrhagic gastroenteritis; 5 had urate nephropathy and visceral gout; 4 birds had adrenal gland hemorrhage; 2 birds had an hemoperitoneum; and one bird had hemorrhagic pneumonia.

4.

In April 1980, 56 ruddy ducks contaminated with weathered No. 6 fuel oil were retrieved from the Delaware River in Philadelphia in April, 1980 (Lauer et al., 1982).  Of the 56 collected, 39 ducks were rehabilitated and 19 died.  Surviving ducks had significantly higher initial body weights and cloacal temperature.  There was no difference in survival between ducks treated with dexamethasone, pentobarbital, or no treatment at all.

V.

Other

1.

From 1982-1984 ruddy ducks were collected from evaporation bonds in San Joaquin Valley, California, where previous observations had indicated that the ducks were accumulating a deposit on their retrices (Euliss et al., 1989). Analysis revealed these deposits to be CaCo3, which may obstruct activities such as diving and flying. 

References for Ruddy Duck

Barnum, D.A. and D.S. Gilmer. 1988. Selenium levels in biota from irrigation drainwater impoundments in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Lake Reservoir Manag. 4:181-186.

Clapp, R.B., D. Morgan-Jacobs, and R.C. Banks. 1982. Marine birds of the southeastern United States and Gulf of Mexico. Part II: Anseriformes. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Washington, D.C. FWS/OBS-82/20. 492 pp.

Cramp, S., ed. 1977. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North America. Oxford University Press, New York. 717 pp.

Di Giulio, R.T., and P.F. Scanlon. 1984. Heavy metals in tissues of waterfowl from the Chesapeake Bay, USA. Enivoron. Pollut. (Series A) 35: 29-48.

Dunning, Jr., J.B., ed. 1993. CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press, Ann Arbor. 371 pp.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The Birders Handbook. Simon & Schuster, New York. 785 pp.

Euliss, N.H., Jr., R.L. Jarvis, and D.S. Gilmer. 1989. Carbonate deposition on tail feathers of ruddy ducks using evaporation ponds. The Condor 91:803-806.

Euliss, N.H., Jr., R.L. Jarvis, and D.S. Gilmer. 1991. Feeding ecology of waterfowl wintering on evaporation ponds in California. The Condor 93:582-590.

Frenzel, R.W. and R.G. Anthony. 1989. Relationship of diets and environmental contaminants in wintering bald eagles. J. Wildl. Manage. 53:792-802.

Hoffman, D.J., H.M. Ohlendorf, C.M. Marn, and G.W. Pendleton. 1998. Association of mercury and selenium with altered glutathione metabolism and oxidative stress in diving ducks from the San Francisco Bay Region, USA. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 17: 167-172.

Langenberg, J.A. and F.J. Dein. 1983. Pathology of ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) contaminated with spilled #6 fuel oil. In D. Rosie and S.N. Barnes, eds., Proceeding Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Inc. The Effects of Oil on Birds--A Multi-discipline Symposium.  Stone Harbor, NJ,  pp. 139-142.

Lauer, D., J. Frink, and F.J. Dein.  1982.  Rehabilitation of ruddy ducks contaminated oil. In D. Rosie and S.N. Barnes eds., Proceeding Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Inc. The Effects of Oil on Birds--A Multi-discipline Symposium.  Stone Harbor, NJ, pp. 146-147.

Melancon, M.J., L. LeCaptain, H. Ohlendorf, and C. Marn. 1992. Hepatic and renal microsomal monooxygenase activity in diving ducks from the San Francisco Bay Area. Soc. Environ. Toxicol. Chem., Abstract, 13th Annual Meeting. p.197.

Moffitt, J. and R.T. Orr. 1938. Recent disastrous effects of oil pollution on birds in the San Francisco Bay region. Cal. Fish Game 24:239-244.

Novara, A.N. and J.F. Voelzer. 1987. Waterfowl Status Report, 1981. Fish and Wildlife Technical Report 12. United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

Perry, M.C. and J.A. Artmann. 1979. Incidence of Embedded shot in oiled ruddy ducks. J. Wildl. Manage. 43: 266-269.

Peterson, R.T. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 384 pp.

Tome, M.W. 1996. Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal Communication.

Trost, R.E. 1980. Ingested shot in waterfowl harvested on the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 8: 71-74.

White D.H. and T.E. Kaiser. 1976. Residues of organochlorines and heavy metals in ruddy ducks from the Delaware River, 1973. Pestic. Monit. J. 9: 155-156.

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