Ruddy ducks—leading a double life

Story and photography by Budd Titlow

Depending on where you live in the world, the ruddy duck is either a cute bundle of fun or a despised nuisance.

In the United States, this perky duck is beloved for both its peculiar name and its unique appearance. Arthur Cleveland Bent provides this perfect description of the ruddy’s personality: “. . . the little gem of bird life that floats gently on its surface, his back glowing with the rich, red brown of his nuptial attire, offset by the pure white of his cheeks, his black crown, and above all his wonderful bill of the brightest, living, glowing sky blue. He knows he is handsome as he glides smoothly along, without a ripple, his saucy sprigtail held erect or even pointed forward till it nearly meets his upturned head.”

The ruddy duck, hated in Great Britain, loved in the United States and Canada. © Budd Titlow

The ruddy duck, hated in Great Britain, loved in the United States and Canada. © Budd Titlow

Ruddy ducks are a common migratory species throughout the United States and Canada and can be found in marshy ponds, lakes and bays. Even though ruddies are one of our smallest ducks, they lay eggs that are the size of those of the great blue heron and wild turkey.

Wonderful divers and swimmers, ruddies often submerge to considerable depths to capture shellfish, crustaceans, aquatic plant roots, and aquatic insect larvae. With their chunky bodies and short wings, they must patter for some distance across the surface of the water before finally becoming airborne. Their small wings stroke so fast that these birds resemble bumblebees in flight. During courtship, male ruddies engage in a highly entertaining “water bubbling display” while delivering a funny sound reminiscent of a lawn mower starting up.

The ruddy duck is shot by hunters in Great Britain, and by photographers in North America. © Budd Titlow

The ruddy duck is shot by hunters in Great Britain, and by photographers in North America. © Budd Titlow

Now—for those folks living in Europe—here’s the dark side of the ruddy duck’s story. Due to escapes from wildfowl collections imported from North America starting in the 1950s, the ruddy duck became widely established as an invasive species in Great Britain. Since that time ruddies have spread throughout southern Europe, where problems first arose in 1999. Spanish biologists began complaining that ruddy ducks migrating down from Great Britain were threatening the survival of their globally endangered white-headed ducks. In response, British biologists concocted a controversial plan to extirpate the ruddy duck as a breeding waterfowl species throughout Great Britain.

In the March 8, 2012, online edition of the Guardian, environmental editor John Vidal wrote that the British government has killed more than 6,500 ruddies at a cost of more than £900 (approximately $1,173) each, making the ruddy duck some of the most expensive ducks in the world. Although the ruddy duck has bred happily in British ponds for more than 60 years, Vidal notes that bird lovers hoping to see this species should “hurry because the government is about to spend £200,000 (approximately $260,720) trying to shoot the last hundred to finally exterminate this invasive species.” Their only crime: being “American, oversexed, and over here.” Other European countries with ruddy duck populations have abandoned their eradication efforts, believing that a complete culling of the ruddies is both impractical and impossible.

Europe is hardly a safe haven for the ruddy duck. © Budd Titlow

Europe is hardly a safe haven for the ruddy duck. © Budd Titlow

For now, the ruddy duck will continue to live its double life—loved on one side of the Atlantic and hated on the other.


A wetland scientist and wildlife biologist, Budd Titlow is an award-winning nature photographer and author in Tallahassee, Florida. His credits include: 2003 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Outdoor Photographer, National Wildlife, Audubon, Outside, Nature’s Best, Travel/Holiday, Time/Life Publications, Sierra Club, Popular Photography, and Petersen’s Photographic. He has authored four books: Protecting the Planet—Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, Bird Brains—Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, SeashellsJewels from the Ocean, and Rocky Mountain National Park—Beyond Trail Ridge. He also writes a weekly birding photo-essay for the Tallahassee Democrat, teaches ecology, birding , and photography courses at Florida State University, and serves as president of the Apalachee Audubon Society. See his web site at www.buddtitlow.com.

 

 

Funding for Conservation

Story by John Nuhn, NANPA Foundation President

Blazing orange Tennessee shiners and yellow striped saffron shiners densely pack in around a stoneroller on a river chub nest in a small Smoky Mountain National Park river. © David Herasimtschuk

Blazing orange Tennessee shiners and yellow striped saffron shiners densely pack in around a stoneroller on a river chub nest in a small Smoky Mountain National Park river. © David Herasimtschuk

Philip Hyde Grant Offers Funding for Conservation Photography Projects

Imagine receiving $2,500 to assist your current conservation photography project! The NANPA Foundation’s Philip Hyde Grant could do just that. Continue reading

Hidden Rivers: The Freshwater Biodiversity of the Southern Appalachia

Story and Photography by David Herasimtschuk

Bright orange Tennessee shiners surround a stoneroller on a chub nest in the West Fork of the Pigeon River in Smoky Mountain National Park. Both species take advantage of nests built by chubs, and use them to deposit their eggs in. © David Herasimtschuk

Bright orange Tennessee shiners surround a stoneroller on a chub nest in the West Fork of the Pigeon River in Smoky Mountain National Park. Both species take advantage of nests built by chubs, and use them to deposit their eggs in. © David Herasimtschuk

 

I awkwardly clamber up the cobble and bedrock of a swift Southern Appalachian River. My senses and thoughts are continually captivated by the life that call these forests home. Small slimy salamanders scurry along the bank as the heavy buzz of cicadas flood the sweet Southern air, all a pleasant reminder of the unique diversity that is supported by these ecosystems. However, to truly understand how special Southern Appalachia is you have to look below the water’s surface.

As I hike up river, occasionally looking for glimpses of what might be lurking in the small rapids and pools, all I see from above are fleeting dark shadows that seem to blend in with the patterns of the water. From the surface, these rivers can appear as lifeless bands of bedrock and boulders, as if that’s where the forest’s life stops. But looks can be deceiving, and as every photographer knows, perspective is everything. Hidden beneath the surface of Southern Appalachia’s rivers and streams lives one of the greatest assemblages of freshwater life found anywhere on this planet. Continue reading

Grant Supports Environmental Projects with Impact

Grant Supports Environmental Projects with Impact

Philip Hyde Environmental Grant applications accepted through October 30, 2015

Hellbenders © David Herasimtschuk, 2014 grant recipient.

Hellbenders © David Herasimtschuk, 2014 grant recipient.

What difference do your photographs make?

Applications are now available for NANPA’s Philip Hyde Environmental grant, a $2,500 award given annually to an individual NANPA member actively pursuing completion of a peer-reviewed environmental project featuring natural photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation and environmental protection. Application deadline is October 30, 2015 at midnight PDT.

Past recipients include Paul Colangelo (2010), whose efforts to bring the remote and largely unseen Sacred Headwaters of British Columbia to the attention of lawmakers and citizens outside of the Tahltan First Nation played a key role in vacating Shell Oil Company from a million acres slated for methane development; Amy Gulick (2008), whose award-winning book Salmon in the Trees, traveling exhibits, lectures and YouTube videos tell a hopeful story of Alaska’s Tongass rain forest, a rare ecosystem where salmon grow trees and support an abundance of bears and bald eagles; and C.C. Lockwood (2008), whose photographs showcase disappearing swamplands that threatened the culture and economy of Louisiana, as featured in the PBS documentary Atchafalaya Houseboat.

As applicants for the Philip Hyde Environmental Grant, these photographers successfully demonstrated the ways in which their still photographs would make a difference to specific decision-makers wrestling with a timely issue. Additionally, at the time of application, these projects were already well underway, with established collaborations, realistic schedules and practical budgets. These factors made for compelling applications that fared well in scoring.

For complete guidelines, link to the online application and additional tips for applicants, please visit http://nanpafoundation.org/philip-hyde-environmental-grant/.

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Photography Helps Puma Conservation by Jeff Parker

© Jeff Parker

© Jeff Parker

Images and Article by Jeff Parker

A large male puma makes his way down the hill to the kill we’ve spent the last hour watching. For the next 45 minutes, we have the privilege of observing the interactions between this adult male, a female, and two 1-year-old siblings as the pumas work at consuming a guanaco killed the day before.

The biologist with us at the photo shoot—a big cat specialist—had never seen such behavior before. Most research has been conducted on pumas in North America, where adult males such as this one—likely the mate of the female and the father of the two cubs—don’t hang out with, and especially don’t dine with, others. This behavior in South America may be because the ecological fitness of the habitat minimizes the sort of competitive forces we see in more northern areas. Continue reading

The Captive Project by Gaston Lacombe

Captive - Sea Turtle © Gaston Lacombe

Captive – Sea Turtle © Gaston Lacombe

When I presented my project on rewilding at the recent San Diego NANPA Summit, it was a Lightning Talk, so I only had six minutes to address the audience. I did not have time to explain a bit more about why I started a photo project about releasing animals back into the wild. It stems in part from spending years working on another project, which deals with less fortunate animals living in captivity. After photographing animals who had lost all freedom, I felt the need to experience animals returning to nature. But still, the project I call “Captive” is a quest I feel passionate about, especially as I have seen my photos play an integral role in the current public discourse over reforming and rethinking zoos.

Continue reading

INTERVIEW: Gerrit Vyn on Multimedia Storytelling in The Sagebrush Sea

Strutting male Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The display of this speceis differs significantly from that of the Greater Sage-Grosue and led researchers to declare it a unique species in 2000. Gunnison County, Colorado.  Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Strutting male Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The display of this speceis differs significantly from that of the Greater Sage-Grosue and led researchers to declare it a unique species in 2000. Gunnison County, Colorado. Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Story by Andy Johnson; Photos by Gerrit Vyn

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Multimedia Production team has spent the past three years producing an hour-long documentary about the iconic sagebrush steppe of the American west. On May 20th, at 8/7c, The Sagebrush Sea aired nationally on PBS, as part of the award-winning series, NATURE. Check your local PBS station for future viewing times. You can also stream the film online for free on the PBS / Nature website.

Gerrit Vyn, photographer and producer at the Cornell Lab and iLCP fellow, has spent much of the past few years documenting the sagebrush steppe for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Sagebrush Project included a magazine article in Living Bird, educational web interactives, and an hour-long documentary for PBS / Nature, The Sagebrush Sea. In today’s shifting media landscape, increasingly rooted in web and multimedia, conservation itself (in turn, rooted in communication and education) is also expanding its media toolbox.

I recently sat down with Gerrit to discuss how the intersection of conservation photography with filmmaking and web production can benefit a core message. Continue reading

Photographing the Unseen by Sebastian Kennerknecht

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Using SLR Camera Traps to Photograph the Unseen

Text and Images by Sebastian Kennerknecht

How do you photograph an animal so elusive that the biologists studying them have never even seen the species themselves? The answer is simple: SLR camera traps. Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you relax at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at a moment’s notice, but it also needs to conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench. Continue reading