Wood Ducks are flamboyant in breeding plumage, practically
unmistakable with their brightly colored chestnut and yellow
bodies, green droop-crested heads, bright red bills, and
bold white barring on their faces and bodies. Females are
drabber, with subtle iridescence on overall grayish-brown
bodies, spotted flanks, and a white teardrop surrounding
each eye. Juveniles appear similar to females, as do non-breeding
males in eclipse plumage (from June to September), although
they have the red bill and white facial markings.
seen on marine waters, the Wood Duck is a bird of wooded
wetlands and slow-moving, tree-lined rivers, with a preference
for deciduous-tree habitats. This cavity-nester requires
either a natural cavity or nest box to raise its young.
Ducks forage in the water by taking food from the surface
and up-ending to reach food underneath. They also graze
on land. Pairs form on the wintering grounds, and males
attract females by showing off their brightly colored plumage.
Females demonstrate strong fidelity to the sites where
they hatched (philopatry), and they lead their mates back
to those sites in the spring.
plant seeds make up the majority of the diet. Insects and
other aquatic invertebrates are also eaten, especially
by young birds. In areas with oak trees, acorns are a significant
source of food.
Ducks nest in cavities near or above water, up to 65 feet
high. The most common natural cavities are Pileated Woodpecker
holes, but artificial nest boxes are used as well. The
cavity is lined with down. The female lays 9 to 14 eggs
and incubates them for 25 to 35 days. After the female
begins incubation, the pair breaks up. After one day in
the nest, the young leap to the ground or water, often
quite a long jump. The young can swim and feed themselves,
but the female continues to tend them for 5 to 6 weeks.
She leaves before they can fly, however. They fledge when
they are 8 to 9 weeks old.
Wood Ducks are short-distance migrants, but almost 75%
of the Wood Ducks in the Pacific Flyway are non-migratory.
Those that are migratory fly from British Columbia through
western Washington and winter in the Central Valley of
California. Some western Washington breeders do not appear
to be migratory, although most are. Those from eastern
Washington are also migratory. Males gather in a post-breeding
flock and molt before the fall migration.
Ducks declined seriously during the late 19th Century due
to over-hunting and habitat loss, and were threatened with
extinction early in the 20th Century. Legal protection,
beginning in 1918 with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and
major initiatives to provide nest boxes in appropriate
habitat have helped the Wood Duck recover to healthy numbers.
Expanding beaver populations throughout the Wood Duck's
range have also helped the population rebound as beavers
create an ideal forested wetland habitat for Wood Ducks.