Few birds have led to such contoversy in the UK as the (North American) Ruddy Duck. Brim-full of character, hardy and easy on the eye, this species is one which is (or should be) disappearing from avaiculture in Europe. Sadly it has been a case of over-sexed and over here.
Ruddy Duck is a North American duck which was unintentionally introduced to Britain in the 1940s. A small number escaped from captivity and formed a feral population which by January 2005 numbered around 4,400. In the early 1990s Ruddy Duck, thought to originate from Britain in most cases, began to appear in Spain where they hybridised with the native White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala, which is globally threatened.
Between 1993 and 2004 the UK government undertook research to determine the most effective techniques for controlling Ruddy Duck. This confirmed that eradication from Britain was feasible and it was determined as necessary to ensure the survival of White-headed Duck in Europe. The programme began in September 2005, and initially ran until August 2010.
In order to protect the endangered White-headed Duck, the EU Invasive Alien Species (IAS) regulation (1143/214) came into force on 1 January 2015. The (North American) Ruddy Duck cannot be imported, kept, bred, transported, sold or exchanged, allowed to reproduce, or released into the environment in Europe.
Feral UK Ruddy Duck numbers are now tiny, perhaps only just into double figures, yet any mention of the locations of these surviving individuals still prompts angry words on social media, while many bird sightings pages simply keep their heads down by not publishing any reports.
Ruddy Duck eradication makes us sad, but it is the right and proper thing to do to save the White-headed Duck from extinction. In the UK, eradication in the wild is almost complete, France have just started a LIFE project to eradicate Ruddy Ducks, and there are relatively few now remaining in Belgium and the Netherlands.