Wood Duck

Aix sponsa

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photo of a wood duck
Danny Brown
Family

Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

Description

The plumage of a male wood duck is very beautiful, with chestnut, tan, green, red, and white. The brownish female has a distinguishing white eye ring that tapers to a point behind the eye. Males in late summer molt to an “eclipse” plumage that resembles the female’s plumage but with more white on the chin, cheeks, and throat. The female’s flight call is a haunting rising whistle, frequently heard in forested wetlands; this may be the only evidence of the bird’s presence. Males give a soft, high whistle.

Seen in flight, male wood ducks have a blocky-looking head and a long, square tail; their wings make a rustling, swishing sound.

Size

Length: 18 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Female Wood Duck and Chicks

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Newly hatched wood ducks
Newly Hatched Wood Ducks
The first few clutches of wood ducks hatched at Duck Creek last week. Typically, wood ducks will begin to hatch in mid-April.

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Wood Ducks
Wood Ducks

FG-0105_Wood_Duck.mp4

Video of wood ducks (female and young) in the wild.

Wood duck

Audio of a wood duck.

Pair of Wood Ducks

Pair of Wood Ducks in Lincoln County
Pair of Wood Ducks
Pair of Wood Ducks in Moscow Mills, Lincoln County
Habitat and conservation

Common migrant statewide, foraging in swamps, lakes, backwaters of streams, and ponds. Nests in tree cavities usually near water, although often a mile away. Habitat loss and overhunting for meat and plumage caused severe declines in the wood duck’s population by the late 1800s, but federal and state conservation laws helped rescue this species, and artificial nesting boxes have helped increase populations to where they are now stable.

Foods

Forages for seeds, berries, and aquatic invertebrates in swamps, lakes, backwaters of streams, and ponds.

image of Wood Duck distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common transient and summer resident; uncommon winter resident (southeast; rare elsewhere).

Life cycle

Wood ducks form pairs in midwinter and usually have two broods a year. Clutches comprise 6-16 eggs, which are incubated 28-37 days. The young are covered with down when they hatch and jump from the nest cavity a day after hatching. Nest cavities can easily be 60 feet aboveground and are usually at a place where a branch has fallen off a tree, exposing a rotted, hollow place in the trunk. Wood ducks also readily use specially made nest boxes.

Human connections

Popular with duck hunters and with just about anyone able to see their stunning plumage, wood ducks declined because of human actions. They also rebounded because humans made the decision to enact laws to protect this and many other species, and their habitats.

Ecosystem connections

Wood ducks eat mostly plant foods, including seeds, nuts such as acorns, fruits, and leaves. They also eat small invertebrates. In turn, wood ducks are preyed upon by animals, such as hawks, and are particularly vulnerable during nesting and when the chicks are incapable of flight.