Ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)

Ruddy shelduck amongst vegetation
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Ruddy shelduck fact file

Ruddy shelduck description

GenusTadorna (1)

A distinctive duck with beautiful rusty orange plumage, the ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) looks very different from almost all other waterfowl (2) (3). The head is lighter than the body, with a white face and crown and often a dusky patch at the rear of the head (4) (5). The neck is buffy and the stubby bill is black (6). The rump, tail and primary and secondary feathers are black, often with a glossy green sheen, and contrast with the white wing-coverts (2) (5), which are most conspicuous when the ruddy shelduck is in flight (4). The legs and feet are both black (4), and there is a black collar on the neck, which is absent or broken on breeding birds (5).

The female ruddy shelduck is very similar to the male, but usually smaller, with more white on the face, no collar and a buff wash on the upper-wing coverts. The juvenile is similar to the female but duller and with a browner back (6)

The ruddy shelduck swims with a characteristic posture, the head being held erect, but the front part of the body riding very low in the water and the rear part held high (4). This duck may be further identified by its trumpeting and honking “choor” and “aakh” calls (5).

Also known as
Brahminy duck, ruddy sheld-duck, ruddy sheldrake.
Tadorne casarca.
Length: 63 - 66 cm (2)
925 - 1640 g (2)

Ruddy shelduck biology

An opportunistic, nocturnal feeder, the ruddy shelduck has an omnivorous diet consisting of a variety of aquatic and terrestrial vegetation, insects, fish, frogs and worms. It plucks or grazes on vegetation while on land, and dabbles while swimming, often upending to feed on aquatic plants and other food items (2)

Although gregarious for much of the year, mainly occurring in small flocks along rivers, during the breeding season the ruddy shelduck is aggressive to conspecifics and is found in well-dispersed pairs (6) (7). Courtship is brief, with the male and female engaging in head-bowing and head-jerking (6). The nest is a cavity created in a sand or clay bank, into which eight or nine eggs are usually laid (7). The male ruddy shelduck defends the nest while the female incubates the eggs for 28 or 29 days (2), but both adults tend to the chicks (6). The young birds fledge from the nest after approximately 55 days and the adults then undergo a flightless period of around 4 weeks (2), during which time all the feathers are shed and replaced. After this moulting period some ruddy shelduck populations migrate southwards to winter at lower latitudes or lower altitudes (7). The ruddy shelduck reaches maturity at around two years of age (6).


Ruddy shelduck range

The ruddy shelduck breeds in south-eastern Europe, east through southern and central Asia to Mongolia and western China, with separate populations in northwest Africa and Ethiopia. A migratory species, it travels south before the onset of winter, with most European and Asian birds moving to south and south-eastern Asia, from Afghanistan east to eastern China, while North African birds disperse eastwards along the north African coastline, and Ethiopian birds move into lowland areas (5).


Ruddy shelduck habitat

Occurring in more inland habitats than other shelducks, the ruddy shelduck is usually found around freshwater, salty and brackish lakes and rivers in open country, avoiding areas with dense, tall vegetation. During the breeding season the ruddy shelduck often occurs considerable distances away from water, but outside of the breeding season it prefers to reside near streams, slow-flowing rivers, freshwater pools, flooded grasslands, and marshes (2) (5) (6) (7)


Ruddy shelduck status

The ruddy shelduck is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Ruddy shelduck threats

In the western parts of its range, the ruddy shelduck is threatened by habitat loss and hunting and is thought to be in decline (7). Across the Mediterranean region as a whole, approximately 50 percent of wetlands have already been lost (8) due to water extraction for irrigation, drainage, salt extraction and urban development (5) (6) (7), and wetland loss has accelerated over the past two decades in many areas. In Morocco, the ruddy shelduck’s habitat is threatened by an increasing human population and by development, and most Moroccan wetlands are unprotected (8). The ruddy shelduck’s habitat is further threatened by sand mining and pollution in Bulgaria (7), and by agricultural encroachment and tourist developments in China (9)

The ruddy shelduck is hunted in much of south-eastern Europe and south Asia, but is relatively well protected from hunting in many Buddhist countries by its status as a ‘sacred’ bird (7). Consequently, numbers of ruddy shelducks in central and eastern Asia are thought to be stable or even increasing (6) (7). The ruddy shelduck is, however, susceptible to avian influenza and could become threatened by future outbreaks of this deadly disease (7)

In contrast to its eastern European status, the ruddy shelduck is increasing in western Europe, but is considered an invasive species there. Many captive populations have escaped and established in the wild and are threatening native species due to the ruddy shelduck’s aggressive nature towards other waterfowl. The ruddy shelduck is also able to interbreed with other shelduck species, resulting in the pollution of both species’ gene pools. Consequently, the ruddy shelduck is subject to eradication measures in western Europe (4) (7)


Ruddy shelduck conservation

The ruddy shelduck is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (10), and is also protected under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), which calls upon parties to undertake conservation actions for bird species that depend on wetland habitats for at least part of their annual cycle (11). The ruddy shelduck has also benefited from some specific conservation efforts, including the restoration of its habitats, the creation of artificial nests, and feeding. As a result of such measures, a population at the Ascania Nova Nature Reserve in southern Ukraine recovered from previous declines (7), and the wintering population in Iran has increased five or six fold over the last two decades (12). Additional conservation priorities for the ruddy shelduck include protection from hunting in south-east Europe and further ringing studies to investigate the status of individual populations and their migratory patterns (6) (12).   

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Avian influenza
Also known as 'bird flu', a contagious disease caused by any strain of influenza virus that is carried by and primarily affects birds.
Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
Belonging to the same species.
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Active at night.
Feeding on both plants and animals.
Primary feathers
In birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
Secondary feathers
In birds, the shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of the wing.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdGuides – Ruddy shelduck (December, 2010)
  4. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums – Ruddy shelduck (December, 2010)
  5. Ogilvie, M.A. and Young, S. (2002) Photographic Handbook: Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  6. Kear, J. (2005) Ducks, Geese and Swans. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
  7. BirdLife International (December, 2010)
  8. Green, A.J., El Hamzaoui, M., El Agbani, M.A. and Franchimont, J. (2002) The conservation status of Moroccan wetlands with particular reference to waterbirds and to changes since 1978. Biological Conservation, 104: 71-82.
  9. Rui-Chang, Q., Xianji, W., Xiaojun, Y., Gui-Hong, P. and Ting-Fa, H. (2001) Habitat use by wintering ruddy shelduck at Lashihai Lake, Lijiang, China. Waterbirds: The International Journal of Waterbird Biology, 24: 402-406.
  10. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (December, 2010)
  11. Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (December, 2010)
  12. Poporkina, A.B. (2006) Conflicting trends in ruddy shelduck Tadorna ferruginea populations: a myth or reality? In: Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. and Stroud, D.A. (Eds.) Waterbirds Around the World. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh. 

Image credit

Ruddy shelduck amongst vegetation  
Ruddy shelduck amongst vegetation

© Hanne & Jens Eriksen /

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