Wood ducks

As many migratory waterfowl make their way north, the flamboyant male wood duck stands out amongst his peers with its multicolored body, brilliant red eyes, and matching bill. One of these birds was recently seen resting on a small pond near Braddock Heights. Wood ducks are native waterfowl to the Eastern part of the U.S. and Canada; they are found on the Pacific Coast, as well. Wood ducks inhabit wooded swamps, small lakes, ponds, streams, marshes and creeks — wherever there is a mixture of trees and water.

Wood duck males stand out among waterfowl with their multi-colored bodies, brilliant red eyes and matching bills.

Credit: Laura Perrotta, Frederick, MD

Wood ducks mate, then they find suitable tree cavities or nest boxes in which to lay their eggs. Sometimes wood duck nests are close together, and the hen will inadvertently lay eggs in another duck’s nest, a practice that is called “nest dumping.” Wood duck normally lay 12 – 14 eggs per brood, and they can have two broods per season in the South. This is the only duck that can have multiple broods per season. The female wood duck incubates the eggs until they hatch. Once the eggs hatch, the female guides the ducklings to the water, and they do not return to the nest. Despite the high reproductive potential, the young chicks suffer significant losses early in their life; normally 30 to 40 percent of chicks survive to become adults.

Young wood ducks are primarily carnivores, feeding mostly on insects, crayfish and fish. As they mature, the wood duck develops more of a vegetarian diet, feeding on acorns, berries, and plants. Wood ducks have claws on their feet, enabling them to perch on trees. Their legs are located in the center of their body so that they can move about fairly swiftly on land.

Wood ducks and starlings compete for many of the same nesting cavities, and more often than not, the aggressive starlings win out. The wood duck population was very low in the late 1800s due to market hunting for meat and plumage and loss of suitable habitat. The Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 brought these birds back from the verge of extinction, and the development of wood duck nesting structures and restoration of wetlands further aided the repopulation of these birds. Wood duck readily nest in wood duck boxes if they are placed near the water. While many other bird populations display a steady decline, wood duck numbers have been increasing since 1966.

The Wood Duck Society is an organization that disseminates information about this duck. The mission of the Wood Duck Society is: To educate and promote sound management of wood duck populations and associated habitats required for their reproduction and survival. The Wood Duck Society maintains a website, www.woodducksociety.com, that is loaded with information on these birds, along with much useful information on how to attract wood ducks to your property.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 6/26/2016