Paul A. Johnsgard was still a high school student when he caught his first glimpse of a North American ruddy duck. While photographing waterfowl on a prairie march in his native North Dakota, he suddenly saw a small chestnut-brown duck swimming in the reeds, a bird with a sky-blue bill, black head, immaculate white cheeks, and long, cocked tail. That unforgettable first encounter led to four decades of worldwide observation of the ruddy and the seven other extant species of stiff-tailed ducks.
In this text, Johnsgard introduces general readers, ornithologists, and bird enthusiasts to the ruddy duck in all its aspects - morphology, behavior, and ecology - and to its diverse relatives - the black-headed duck, the masked duck, the maccoa, the Argentine blue-billed, the white-headed duck, and the musk duck.
Far more than an introduction, this work is an in-depth overview of the biology of a fascinating group of closely related waterfowl. Highly adapted for diving to the bottoms of muddy ponds in search of food, stiff-tailed ducks have evolved a specialized anatomy: their feet have shifted far to the rear, their wings are much reduced in size, and their tail feathers have become long and stiff, making admirable underwater rudders.