Wood Ducks

We recently encountered some Wood Ducks near our home in Florida and thought we’d
share what we know about one of the most interesting and colorful waterfowl native to
North America.
wood duck 1 crop
Male Wood Duck Photo by Dennis Buchner on Unsplash.com

Also known as a “Carolina duck,” the Latin name for the species is Aix sponsa.

With a broad tail and short, broad wings, Wood Ducks are highly maneuverable in flight. So, unlike most waterfowl, Wood Ducks are comfortable flying through wooded areas. And, because Wood Ducks have sharp claws, they are able to perch and nest in trees.

In the water, their head bobs front to back as they swim, much like a dove or pigeon
walking on land.
Appearance
With a length of 19 to 21 inches and a wingspan of 26 to 29 inches, the Wood Duck is
about three-quarters of the size of an adult mallard.
wood duck 2
Male Wood Duck Photo by Dennis Buchner on Unsplash.com

Male—

The iris of the adult male’s eyes is red. His crested head is iridescent green and purple with a white stripe leading from his eye to the tip of his crest. There’s another narrower white stripe that stretches from the base of his bill to the point of his crest. His throat is white, and his chest is burgundy with white flecks that gradually transition to a white belly. His bill is brightly patterned black, white and red. And his legs and feet are a dull straw yellow.

Female—

As is typical with bird species, the female Wood Duck is remarkably less colorful: a grey-brown head and neck, with a brownish-green crest. A white teardrop
shaped patch surrounds her brownish-black eyes. Her throat is white, and her breast is grey-brown stippled with white that gradually fades to her white belly. Her back is olive-brown with a sparkle of iridescent green. Her bill is blue-grey, and her legs and feet are a dull, greyish-yellow.
Habitat
​Wood Ducks are found in wooded swamps, shallow lakes, marshes, ponds, and creeks
in eastern North America and on the west coast of the United States, as well as western
Mexico.

They are omnivores, eating insects, berries, acorns, and seeds.

wood duck nesting box b&w
Nesting Box

Although Wood Ducks usually nest in the cavities of trees close to water, they will also take advantage of nesting boxes in wetland locations. They prefer nesting over water so the young have a soft landing, but will nest up to about 150 yards from the shoreline

Females line their nests with feathers and other soft materials, and the tree elevation provides some protection from predators. They typically lay between 7 and 15 white-tan eggs that incubate for an average of 30 days.
The day after they hatch, the ducklings make their way to the nest entrance and jump to the ground. They are capable of swimming and finding their own food without any help from the mother.
Migrating and Wintering
In the eastern and western United States, as high as three-quarters of all Wood Ducks are permanent residents. Those eastern Wood Ducks that do migrate use the Atlantic Flyway from New Brunswick to Georgia and south to eastern Texas and the West Indies.
The western migrants use the Pacific Flyway from British Columbia to the Central Valley
of California. Wood Ducks in the interior of North America that migrate mostly winter in
the Mississippi River floodplain south of Kentucky.
History
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Wood Duck population had virtually
disappeared from much of their former range. This was the result of severe habitat loss
combined with widespread hunting for both meat and plumage . . . Wood Duck feathers
were in great demand by the European ladies’ hat market.
Most experts agree that the species was saved from extinction by the U.S. Migratory
Bird Treaty Act of 1918 between the United States and Great Britain/Canada—one of
the first environmental treaties entered into by the United States. It was signed into law
by Woodrow Wilson.

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