Description: The male wood duck is one of the most recognizable birds in the United States. It has over 6 different colors on its body!
The markings of the male wood duck are:
- Red eyes and bill.
- Top of head and crest are metallic purplish-green.
- Sides of the face are black with white stripe along the neck. A
small white stripe extends up
- The base of the bill has a patch of yellow.
- The chest and the rump are dark red.
- The sides are a drab yellow with black and white stripes at the edges.
- White belly.
- Blackish tail and back.
- Black and blue wings.
What a colorful bird!
The males do not have the decorative markings all year-round. They use the colorful markings to attract females during the breeding season that runs from autumn until the early summer. In the late summer, they grow gray feathers with blue markings on the wings and white markings on the face and neck. You can still recognize them as a wood duck by the red eyes and bill.
Female wood ducks have grayish-brown bodies. The back is dark gray-brown and the sides are a lighter shade. The most noticeable characteristics of the females are found on the head. The head is gray with a white eye-ring around each eye. The head also has a crest of feathers at the back and white feathers on the throat and chin.
Size: Wood ducks are about 19 inches in length. They have a wingspan of about 28-39 inches.
Diet: Wood ducks alter their diet throughout their lives. As juveniles, they eat a lot of invertebrates and occasionally a small fish. As they near maturity, wood ducks switch to a diet more focused on plants. They eat seeds, nuts and plant matter. Wood ducks will also eat aquatic and land invertebrates.
Typical Lifespan: Wood ducks typically do not live past the age of 4 in the wild. They have a high mortality rate, especially when young. Wood ducks in captivity have the potential to live well into their teens.
Habitat: Wood ducks can be found in ponds, lakes, marshes and along rivers and streams. They prefer areas that have a mix of water habitats and forests.
Range: Wood ducks live year-round in the Southeast and along the Pacific Coast. The highest population is along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast south of New Jersey. In the summer months, many wood ducks migrate north to cooler climates. In the summer, wood ducks can be seen in every state east of the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Communication: Male wood ducks call to females with a squeaky whistle of "jweep." The females call with a different, louder "oo-eek" whistle.
Reproduction and Family Life: Wood ducks pair up in late winter and they begin breeding in early spring. The males attract females with their call and attractive, colorful breeding plumage.
After the pair breed, they build a nest in the cavity of a tree. The cavity can be natural or a hole abandoned by a woodpecker. They prefer trees that overhang water or are close to a water source. Trees with cavities are becoming rarer and rarer with wetland loss and competition from other species. If they cannot find a tree cavity, wood ducks will readily use nest boxes built by people. Learn how to make a wood duck box and the best location for setting them up: Duck Box Plans
The nest can have approximately 15 eggs lined with feathers from the female. Sometimes there will be as few as 6 eggs in the nest and on occasion, as many as 40! A single nest can have over 40 eggs, because some of the eggs were laid by other females. If a female cannot find a nest of her own, then she will lay her eggs inside another wood duck's nest!
After a few weeks, the eggs hatch. The ducklings are born with feathers and they leave the nest quickly. The ducklings will not be raised in the nest, but on the water instead. This means that very young ducklings must jump out of the high tree cavities onto the ground to make their way to water. It can be a challenging experience for a newly hatch wood duck!
Threats to Wood Ducks:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds
United States Geological Survey
University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web
USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service
Field Guide to Birds of North America. Brinkley, Edward S. Foreward by Craig Tufts. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2007.