The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is a colorful waterfowl found in habitats within freshwater areas throughout North America.
At one time they were at risk due to hunting and habitat destruction, but today are thriving ducks that are unique in their coloring and nesting habits.
The wood duck lays more eggs than other duck species, is seasonally monogamous, and has a variety of calls.
Their sharp claws allow them to nest in cavities high up in trees. Their offspring can jump from these nests at incredible heights without injury.
These facts and more make the wood duck an interesting waterfowl to many.
Here are 21 amazing facts about the wood duck.
1. It’s The Only North America Duck That Lays Two Broods
The wood duck often produces two broods annually and is the only duck in North America to do so. Females (hens) lay 10 or 11 eggs on average for each clutch.
Research found that on average, wood ducks lay their second clutch 47 days after the first one has hatched.
2. They Nest In Raised High Cavities
Wood ducks nest directly near lake margins, or within 1-mile or so of water, often opting for wooded swamps or marshes, slow streams, and beaver ponds.
Wood ducks cannot create their own nesting sites and therefore choose natural or manmade ones.
A breeding pair searches for a nesting site together. Dead or rotting trees that are at least 2 feet in diameter with a cavity located 2 to 60 feet high are ideal nesting spots. If large enough, a wood duck will use a cavity left behind by a woodpecker.
Once a cavity is found, the male stands outside of it, while the female inspects it. Females tend to prefer cavities with openings as small as 4-inches to prevent predators from entering. On average, cavities are 2 feet deep but can be as deep as 15 feet.
Cavities are often scarce, so wood ducks will use predator-resistant nest boxes as well.
If the cavity is suitable, the female will line it with her downy feathers.
3. North American Beavers Help Wood Ducks
In areas that have ample or increasing beaver populations, wood ducks are also found to be nearby.
Beavers help to create cavities or vegetative concealment that are suitable for wood ducks to use as nesting sites.
4. Wood Ducks Egg-Dump
Wood ducks commonly do intraspecific brood parasitism, also called egg-dumping.
Nesting cavities may hold more than the wood duck’s typical clutch of 10 or 11 eggs. They can have as many as 40 eggs in them.
Since cavities can be hard to find, wood ducks will visit the cavities of other wood ducks, and lay their eggs in them. The other wood duck then incubates all of the eggs for 28 to 37 days and then raises them.
5. Ducklings Jump From Their Nests
The ducklings hatch with a full downy coat of feathers. On the day of hatching, the mother is outside the nest cavity and calls to them to come to her.
They climb out of the cavity using their claws and jump down to make their way to the water. They can successfully jump from cavity heights as high as 50 feet without injury.
This video shows wood ducklings jumping from their nest:
6. Wood Ducklings Are Precocial
Precocial means that the hatchlings are born in an advanced state, ready to swim and feed themselves.
Even though they are independently capable, wood ducklings stay with their mother for 45 to 60 days after birth. They start to fly around 8 or 9 weeks of age.
7. They Have A High Duckling Death Rate
In the two weeks after hatching, 86% to 90% of the wood ducklings die, primarily due to predation. Predators such as raccoons, red foxes, black rat snakes, and owls eat them.
On average, surviving wood ducks mature to live 3 to 4 years, and the oldest recorded lived to 15 years in the wild.
8. They Are One Of The Top Most Hunted Waterfowl
Overhunting and habitat destruction (swamp drainage and logging) in the 1800s to 1900s put the wood duck population at risk.
In 1913, the hunting of these ducks was banned for 5 years, allowing the population to recover. Starting in 1917, wood duck nest boxes were put in place by conservationists.
In 1941, wood duck hunting was permitted again during the waterfowl hunting season. Today, they are the first or second most hunted waterfowl depending on the local populations.
The hunting of a limited number of wood ducks is permitted during certain seasons, which can vary by state. These measures prevent overharvesting of the wood duck while maintaining healthy populations.
9. They Can Perch With Claws
Surprisingly, wood ducks can perch in trees, using the sharp claws on their webbed feet. They preen, rest, and nest in trees.
Ducklings are born with these claws, giving them the ability to climb out of their nesting sites.
10. Male Wood Ducks Are The Most Colorful
Male (drake) ducks are considered by some to be the most colorful of the world’s ducks.
They have a bold pattern of iridescent purple, green, blue, and maroon feathers. They have a white patch on their chins and a red and white bill. A wood duck’s belly is a white-buff color.
Wood ducks also have white lines that extend from their bills to the back of their head crests.
These vivid colors are what attract females during the breeding season (early spring).
Once late summer comes, the drake grows blue-marked gray feathers on the wings and white-marked feathers on the neck and face. Its bill remains the same red and white colors.
11. Male Wood Ducks Have Red Eyes
In addition to their vivid coloring, male wood ducks also have eyes with red irises. Females and juveniles have dark brown eyes.
However, male juveniles develop these red eyes around 8 or 9 weeks of age.
12. They Are Seasonally Monogamous
While wood ducks may not form permanent pair bonds, they will stay with the same mate for the current breeding season.
Pairing starts as early as January and will begin mating in the Spring. They may have the same or a different mate the following year.
13. They Can Interbreed With Other Ducks
Wood ducks can successfully interbreed with other duck species such as mallards.
However, these hybrid offspring are typically infertile.
14. Wood Ducks Only Have One Close Relative
There are only two species of dabbling ducks in the Aix genus: the wood duck (Aix sponsa) and the Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata). The mandarin duck is found in eastern Asia.
The taxonomy of a wood duck is as follows:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Anseriformes
- Family: Anatidae
- Genus: Aix
- Species: Aix sponsa
15. They Sleep On The Water
Wood ducks will primarily sleep on the water.
However, females with young broods will sleep on the bank or logs, or even on top of muskrat houses.
16. Wood Ducks Are Dabblers
Wood ducks are dabblers as they eat from the water. While acorns are highly sought after for their diet, they also eat aquatic plants, fruits, insects, and invertebrates.
Dabblers submerge their heads only under the water for 10 to 60 seconds, sticking their tails straight up, and graze on food in shallow waters.
17. Female Wood Ducks Need Lots Of Protein
A wood duck egg contains about 5 grams of protein, and female wood ducks must consume enough protein to produce one egg.
Acorns and invertebrates are both sources of protein in a duck’s diet. A female wood duck must consume hundreds of invertebrates to obtain enough protein.
18. They Have Several Nicknames
Wood ducks are affectionately referred to by several different names.
These include the following:
- Carolina ducks
- Acorn duck
- Summer duck
- Swamp duck
- Squealer duck
Note: The acorn term is used since these nuts of oak trees are the main diet of wood ducks.
19. Adult Wood Ducks Have A Dozen Calls
Mature wood ducks have a series of 12 calls that are used for warning, attracting mates for breeding, locating monogamous mates, indicating they are disturbed or annoyed, and pre-flight calling.
Juvenile wood ducks only make about 5 of these calls.
Males are commonly heard making a high and falling whistling “hoo-w-eek” sound, and females “oo-eek”.
This link from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has several recordings of the wood duck’s calls.
20. They Are The State Waterfowl Of Mississippi
In 1974, Mississippi declared the wood duck as the official state waterfowl. The wood duck is 1 of 3 waterfowl that annually nest in the Mississippi area.
The state regulates harvest (hunting for consumption) practices and manages their habitats to allow for nesting opportunities.
21. Wood Ducks Are Commemorated On Coins
Wood ducks are commemorated on colorful North American Canadian 25-cent coins.
The Royal Canadian Mint produced these as part of a set to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2013. Some of these are worth over $50 today.