Species spotlight: Wood Duck

(Photo by Brian Cope)

Colorful duck with a mullet is popular among waterfowl hunters

The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is one of the most colorful ducks in the U.S. and is second only to the mallard duck for popularity among waterfowl hunters. It has many unique characteristics.

Male wood ducks have iridescent plumage in a variety of colors, red eyes, and a unique white flare down its neck. Females are less colorful, having white rings around their eyes and a white throat. Both have crested heads, resembling mullet hairdos.

Wood ducks are also known as woodies, woodro, swamp duck, Carolina duck, squealer, and summer duck.

Considerably smaller than mallards, wood ducks are known as medium ducks. Unlike most other ducks, woodies feature sharp claws on their webbed feet, allowing them to perch in trees, which they are very fond of doing.

They are found in a variety of habitat, included wooded swamps, lakes, ponds, creeks and marshes. Their range includes the eastern U.S., southern U.S., the west coast, and some parts of Canada and Mexico. Very small numbers of them have been observed in Great Britain, where they are called escape ducks or escapees. While most ducks nest on the ground, wood ducks nest in the cavities of trees, usually close to water.

Wake up early to hunt wood ducks

Snakes, squirrels and birds of prey also nest in tree cavities and because of that, many communities, hunt clubs and landowners erect nesting boxes with predator guards for woodies. These ducks readily take advantage of the nesting boxes, which they line with feathers and other soft materials.

Only about 25 percent of wood ducks are migratory. The reason is a bit of a mystery to wildlife biologists. Some begin their lives as year-long residents of a place, then turn migratory later in life. Some never migrate and some migrate every year of their lives.

Another unique characteristic of wood ducks is that they can produce two broods in one season. They are the only North American ducks that do this. The females lay between 7 and 15 eggs, which incubate for about one month before hatching.

Hunters wishing to bag their limit of woodies need to get an early start. These ducks are known to fly at first light, then not again until the very end of the day. They often seem to appear from thin air, whistling ja-eeee ja-eeee ja-eeee and do-weep do-weep do-weep as they fly. When not nested, they spend their time on the water or on land looking for food, which consists mainly of berries, acorns, seeds and insects.

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