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Wood Duck

Common Name: Wood Duck.

Scientific Name: Aix Sponsa.

What to look for?  The Wood Duck is 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 (Note: many photos are of “eclipse” males). 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.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? First, any sighting will be rare. You may find Wood Ducks here periodically from late spring into late summer floating on our ponds.

How big are they? The Wood Duck averages twenty (20) inches in length. And their wingspan is twenty-eight inches. Adults weigh in at around twenty-four (24) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? 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.

How else do they behave? Like Mallards and the American Black Duck, Wood Ducks are "dabbling" ducks in which they tip up their rear ends and “dabble” their feet while foraging with their heads below water. They move around by walking, flying, and swimming. When swimming, their head jerks back and forth similar to a pigeon. Wood Ducks are not territorial. They are social animals and often congregate in the evening and migrate in small flocks.

What’s for dinner? Wood Ducks are omnivores. They eat acorns, seeds, fruits, insects, and other arthropods. The Wood Duck feeds on seeds from trees, wetland plants and bay grasses, including oak acorns, wild rice, and pondweeds. It also eats insects, including flies, butterflies and moths, bugs, beetles, ants, wasps, bees, dragonflies, and damselflies. They will also feed on small invertebrates such as slugs, snails, shrimp, crabs, and caddisflies.

Where do they take up residence? 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.

When and where do they breed and nest? Trees! Wood Ducks nest almost exclusively in tree cavities where a branch has broken off and the tree's heartwood has subsequently rotted. Wood Ducks are not capable of constructing their own cavities. 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 pair up in January, and most birds arriving at the breeding grounds in the spring are already paired. The Wood Duck is the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one year. The female lays a clutch of around twelve (12) eggs and incubates over the next five (5) weeks. The young leave nest the day after hatching. Young Wood Ducks are tended by females for the next five (5) weeks or so. They are capable of flight at about eight (8) to nine (9) weeks.

Where do they migrate? 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.

What is their conservation status? 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.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Female Wood Ducks make a loud "oo-eek, oo-eek" when disturbed and taking flight. Male Wood Ducks have a thin, rising and falling ‘zeeting’ whistle sound. Here is a link to the sounds of the Wood Duck.

Interesting Facts About the Wood Duck:

  • The Wood Duck is also called the Carolina Duck, Swamp Duck, or Squealer Duck.

  • Primarily due to predation, over eighty-five percent of newly hatched Wood Duck chicks die within the first two weeks after hatching.

  • Near extinction in the early 1900’s, conservation efforts have resulted in Wood Duck populations exceeding 3 million in North America.

  • The oldest known Wood Duck lived almost 23 years; although their lifespan averages less than 4 years.

For more information on Wood Ducks and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, American Bird Conservancy, and the Illinois DNR.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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