From tiny amphibians to massive mammals, Colorado is home to hundreds of unique species of wildlife. We are lucky to have so many incredible animals to observe in their natural habitats.

Just in the duck category alone, at least 20 different kinds currently live in the Centennial State. But one type of duck has special distinction not only for its outer appearance but also because of its important existence throughout history.

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Identified by their white cheeks and bright blue bills, ruddy ducks have been around far longer than most other species of ducks. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, fossils discovered from 11,000 years ago document them as being one of the oldest species of ducks in North America. They are stiff-tailed ducks, with spiky tail feathers that are often cocked up in the air.

Ruddy ducks continue to breed in Colorado, though not in large numbers. During the breeding season, small flocks or individual ruddy ducks have been seen at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, and Bosque del Apache in Colorado. A loss of nesting habitat has caused their populations to decrease across the country.

This beautiful, small species of duck prefers wetlands, including marshes, ponds, and shallow bays. In fact, they are basically helpless on land, but make up for it by being expert divers in the water. Ruddy ducks in Colorado often scoop up mouthfuls of mud, which they strain through their large bills to extract the aquatic invertebrates that they eat.

Female ruddies are less colorful than their male counterparts. Their bodies are chestnut brown and they do not have blue bills. Ruddy females are known for laying the largest eggs of all ducks. The big egg size results in hatchlings that are well-developed and require little care.

Ruddy Shelduck, or red duck, lat. Tadorna ferruginea, swimming on a lake.
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Although they have been around for centuries, many Coloradans have spent their whole lives here and have never witnessed these majestic and historic ducks. Protecting and preserving their wetland habitats is key to keeping ruddy ducks around for thousands more years to come.

Scroll Through Some of Colorado's Rarest Birds

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Gallery Credit: Wes Adams

LOOK: Most commonly seen birds in Colorado

Stacker compiled a list of the most common birds seen in Colorado from Project FeederWatch.

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Gallery Credit: Wesley Adams

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