Wood Duck

Aix sponsa

(c) Charles Bush
  • ANATIDAE
  • Swans, Geese, Ducks
  • Anseriformes
  • Pato de charreteras
  • Canard branchu
Introduction
The Wood Duck is a poster child for waterbird conservation efforts. This beautiful species has been brought back from the edge of extinction at the turn of the 19th century to today's healthy, increasing population.
David Menke, USFWS
Appearance Description
The Wood Duck is a medium-sized duck weighing one to two pounds and measuring 19 to 21 inches from bill tip to tail end. The drake is a dramatic, colorful bird with green and purple iridescence on the head, and a droopy crest. His dark green back contrasts with golden sides, and a rich, dark reddish breast. A bright red bill and eye, as well as a variety of white accent marks, punctuate this bird's dramatic plumage. His non-breeding plumage is subdued but retains the breeding plumage's facial pattern. The hen's plumage is much subtler than the drake's but also beautiful. Her gray-brown streaking is iridescent over much of her upper body.
Range Map
Courtesy of Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
This species breeds across southern Canada, throughout much of the United States, and south to Cuba along wooded streams and ponds. It is absent from the Great Plains and the southwest, largely because of a lack of suitable habitat.
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat
Wood Ducks are found in slow-moving woodland rivers, shallow ponds, and marshes, often in areas where large shade trees overhang the water. They also occur in open marshes adjacent to forested areas
Feeding
Seeds from aquatic plants, and tree seeds that fall into the water, play a major part of the Wood Duck's diet. However, the ducks also feed directly on aquatic plants, along with insects and crustaceans. In certain areas, acorns and waste grains are widely consumed.
Reproduction
Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities near the water or as far as a mile away, sometimes as high as 60 feet off the ground. Wood Duck nest boxes are also commonly used. The female creates a soft nest using down feathers from her breast. She then lays 6 to 15 creamy white eggs, which she incubates for 25 to 35 days. Just a day after hatching, young Wood Ducks leap from their nesting cavities to the ground below where their mother waits. Because they are light and fluffy, they land unharmed, and are led to the nearest water.
Migration
In the winter, Wood Ducks withdraw to the southern and westernmost part of their breeding range. Occasionally, they may even visit Mexico. The male follows his mate to her nesting area, so migration routes and goals can vary from year to year, depending on which mate is chosen.
  • 4.6 million
  • 4.6 million
  • NA
  • none
  • NA
  • increasing population, no current conservation concerns
Population Status Trends
Both the Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count indicate that this species is increasing significantly.
 
Conservation Issues
Wood Ducks have long been a favorite bird among hunters, birders, and the general public. However, the combination of heavy hunting and habitat destruction almost resulted in their extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fortunately, hunters and conservationists noticed the plight of this species in time. The Wood Duck was given legal protection from hunting and a major campaign was begun to provide nest boxes for this species. The current flourishing population attests to the success of this effort. Wood Ducks are now being hunted again with careful regulation. Most important, they can be enjoyed by more and more people as their range expands to the north and west. 
What You Can Do
If you own or manage appropriate habitat, consider providing a nest box or two. Nest boxes can be purchased from many outlets, and plans to construct them can be found online. Organize a nest box project with a local scout or other community group in an appropriate public habitat.
 
Show a Wood Duck to someone unfamiliar with the species. You may spark a lifetime interest in birds and conservation.
 
For actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Hepp, G.R., and F.C. Bellrose. 1995. Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). In The Birds of North America, No. 169 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.
Conservation Status References
Hepp, G.R., and F.C. Bellrose. 1995. Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). In The Birds of North America, No. 169 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1996.