Specieswatch: 10 to 15 ruddy ducks left in UK after Europe-wide cull

Specieswatch: 10 to 15 ruddy ducks left in UK after Europe-wide cull

The ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, should have been exterminated by now in the UK, hunted down and shot at a cost of roughly £3,000 a bird.

If you see one you are supposed to report its position so it too can be eliminated.

Peak numbers 20 years ago were 6,000 birds – that was down to 26 in 2018 and now there may be as few as 10 to 15.

This is part of a Europe-wide programme aimed at preventing the enthusiastic males impregnating the closely related but endangered white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala, of southern Spain.

That species was down to 22 birds in 1977 but thanks to careful conservation now numbers more than 2,500.

The ruddy duck was brought to Slimbridge sanctuary in Gloucestershire in the 1940s from North America and thrived, with numbers growing steadily across Europe until the danger to white-headed ducks became apparent.

In a rare spirit of European cooperation every colonised country agreed to a cull, aiming at total elimination. The British effort alone has cost £3.3m, mostly to hire the marksmen.

It has been a controversial programme, with many nature lovers appalled at the idea of shooting sitting ducks on their nests.

Some bird spotters have therefore been reluctant to report sightings, so there may still be some survivors.

This article by Paul Brown was first published by The Guardian on 22 December 2021. Lead Image: A ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, in the UK in 2015. Photograph: M & J Bloomfield/Alamy.

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