Wood Duck

Common Name: Wood Duck

Class:  Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

Genus: Aix

Species: Aix sponsa

photo M. Noonan

Taxonomy/Description

The Wood Duck is in the family Anatidae.  This family is made up of ducks and duck-like waterfowl.  The members of this family share adaptations to life on the water including webbed feet, flattened bills, and feathers with special oils to prevent water absorption.  The Wood Duck belongs to the genus Aix.  This means a kind of waterfowl.  Sponsa means betrothed or dressed for a wedding.  It was given this name because of the male’s beautiful plumage.  The Wood Duck is a dichromatic species.  This means that the male and female look very different.  The male Wood Duck is very colorful with an iridescent green and purple crest on its head and a red eye.  Its body is also iridescent.   It has a white patch on its neck, a brown chest, a green colored back, and pale tan sides.  The female wood duck is much plainer with gray colored sides and face and a greenish back.  The female also has a white eye patch.  Similar to the male, the female Wood Duck has a crest.  However, the female’s crest is much duller.

Habitat/Diet

The wood duck is commonly found in wooded wetlands and ponds as well as freshwater marshes.  In the east, it breeds from southern Canada through the United States and into Cuba.  The Wood Duck also breeds along the Pacific Coast from Southern British Columbia to Southern California.  The Wood Duck winters in the United States.  Populations can be found in the East Coast, West Coast, and Southwest.  The wood duck is an omnivore.  It eats a wide variety of differing foods including seeds, fruits, and invertebrates.

Behavior/Reproduction

The wood duck is a perching duck.  Its usual foraging methods is to seek food items floating on the water's surface.  It sometimes also performs "dabbling", the behavior in which a duck tips forward so that its whole head and chest go under the water in search of food.  Finally, wood ducks also dive completely under water, especially when chasing fallen acorns that are slowly sinking below them. 

It is interesting that young wood ducks will escape predators by diving.  The Wood Duck is not territorial, but in the breeding season a male will defend his mate form other wood ducks.  These ducks have many predators.  Rat snakes, woodpeckers, Raccoons, and Mink often prey upon eggs while Raccoons, Gray Fox, and the Great Horned Owl prey on adults.  If a mother with her brood detects a predator, the female will fake a broken wing while the young finds cover.  Wood ducks form mating pairs in January and consequently when they arrive at their breeding grounds the pairs are already created.  The female duck will make its nest by lining preformed tree cavities or in artificial wood duck boxes with her down.  Each year a female wood duck will have two broods with an average of 6-15 eggs each.  The nests are usually created around water so that when the day old young leave the nest they will land in the water.  However, the nests can be created over one mile from water.  In this case the young ducks must hop to their mothers.  Wood duck young can survive falls from up to 290 feet when they leave the nest.  The female Wood Duck will remain with her brood until the ducklings can fly.

photo M. Noonan

Where to see them in WNY

Wood Ducks can be found year round in forested wetlands including those at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.  You should look for wood duck boxes positioned in the marshes and ponds of the refuge.  Wood duck boxes look like birdhouses on a pole in the water.  They also have a skirt to prevent predators from eating the Wood Duck eggs.  These ducks are typically shy and will usually fly away when they sense a person approaching.

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