Each winter, the Wildlife Center experiences what many people refer to as "weird duck season," a time when some of the more unusual species of duck visit our state. This year, it started in January when the Wildlife Center admitted two species of duck that are not commonly seen as patients: Ruddy Duck #24-0052 and Lesser Scaup #24-0057. Both ducks are migratory birds and only visit Virginia during winter months, when they head south from their northern breeding grounds.
The first to be admitted was Ruddy Duck #24-0052. The duck was found injured next to a road in Richmond and was brought to the Center by an animal control officer on January 17.
Ruddy Ducks are small but stocky ducks with chestnut-colored feathers and black-capped heads. These ducks winter in Virginia’s freshwater wetlands and coastal waterways, and during winter months, they transition from eating insects to primarily vegetation.
On admission, an exam revealed that the Ruddy Duck had a wound on the inside of his mouth and trauma to both of his eyes. Normally, animals found near roadways are suspected to be injured due to vehicle collisions, but in this case, the vet team suspects that the duck mistook the road for a body of water and crash-landed. Ruddy Ducks are only able to take flight from the water, so the bird had likely become stranded after landing.
The vet team started the duck on anti-inflammatories and placed him inside the Center’s holding area to rest, but sadly the bird passed away a few days later, likely due to trauma of the head.
The second duck, Lesser Scaup #24-0057, was admitted just days later from Augusta County and was also brought to the Center by an animal control officer. The duck had been found surrounded by outdoor cats and was not able to fly.
Lesser Scaups are late migrants and one of the last species of duck to head south in the winter from their breeding grounds in Canada and states in the Northwest. They are easily identified by their yellow-colored eyes and black head, although the black feathers are actually an iridescent shade of dark purple and green. During winter, these ducks pass through Virginia on their way south and some overwinter in Eastern Virginia near the coast.
On admission, the scaup was quiet but responsive. An exam did not reveal any obvious injuries and radiographs looked normal, though a blood test revealed the bird had a subclinical level of lead in her system.
The vet team started the duck on chelation therapy to remove the lead, and antibiotics in case she had been injured by the cats (injuries by cats are often difficult to find and cause severe infections). Throughout the week, the duck's mentation and strength improved. Staff brought the bird to a large tub daily so she could swim, and by January 25, the scaup was ready for release.
Dr. Olivia, the Center’s senior veterinary intern, brought the duck to a local stream to release her and was able to capture this video.
The Lesser Scaup may have a long journey ahead of her if she continues to head south for winter, but staff are hopeful that the week of rest and treatment has given her all the help she needs to complete her migration.