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  • Writer's pictureTerry Wise

Wood Ducks

I knew that they visited us here on Carillon Stonegate Pond, but never able to glimpse and photograph them.

These were Wood Ducks. They are one of the most stunning of all waterfowl – especially males. Wood Ducks are small to medium sized birds. Both male and female adults have a boxy, crested head with a thin neck with a white throat. Their tails have a rectangular shape. They have white bellies, and white lines on the back of the wings. Except during late summer, males are iridescent chestnut and green, with ornate patterns on most feathers. In late summer, they transition to their “eclipse” plumage, losing their pale sides and bold stripes, but retaining their bright red eye and bill. The females have an elegant and distinctive profile with a delicate white teardrop pattern around the eye. They also have white along the edge of dark blue “speculum” patch in the wings. Wood Ducks have sharp, clawed feet, which come in handy as they nest in trees.

The first two photographs are of the "eclipse" form that adults take on in the summer and fall. The third photograph from the American Bird Conservancy shows the male in full splendor!

Wood Ducks are comfortable flying through woods since they perch and nest in trees. Their broad tail and short, broad wings help make them maneuverable. They are strong and fast fliers and can reach speeds of 30 mph.

Wood Ducks reside from the from the Great Plains to the east coast of North America and from Nova Scotia in the north, to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico in the south. In the west, Wood Ducks reside from British Columbia to the Mexican border on the west coast. Wood Ducks reside in a wide variety of habitats including woodland areas along lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds, and other freshwater wetlands.

Wood Ducks are tree ducks! Wood Ducks nest almost exclusively in tree cavities where a branch has broken off and the tree's heartwood has subsequently rotted. These nest sites are typically, ten feet or more above the ground and near water. Most breeding is done between March and April in Illinois.

Wood Ducks are medium-distance migrants. Those ducks residing in the north will migrate to the south; here in northern Illinois, Wood Ducks will start moving south in September.

While near extinction in the early 1900’s, there is no concern today. Current populations of Wood Ducks are stable and estimated at over two (2) million. Wood Ducks are listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List and do not have special status on U.S. government lists. Wood Ducks are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

We have some amazing wildlife on and around Carillon Stonegate Pond. Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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