Wood Ducks were hunted intensively in the 1800s. By 1900 they had become scarce. An international agreement to ban hunting between 1918 and 1941 allowed the species to recover, and current populations fluctuate between two and four million individuals. Hunting has resumed, but the major threat to Wood Ducks is now loss of wetland habitat and mature trees for nesting. Artificial nest-boxes have been used successfully.
Amazing Wood Ducks
Wood Ducks are quite common waterfowl across North America and are found in a variety of freshwater habitats.
Male Wood Ducks in the breeding season are exquisitely colourful with patches of white, black, iridescent green and purple, red, yellow and violet feathers. Breeding males also have bright red eyes and bills and a helmet-like crest that extends down the back of their necks. By contrast, females and non-breeding males are much plainer, mostly grey and white.
Wood Ducks nest in trees which is quite unusual among ducks. Nest trees are usually within two kilometres of water. Females lay a clutch of eggs in a tree hollow lined with soft down feathers. They incubate the eggs for about a month without assistance from the males. In June, the ducklings hatch and quickly make their way to water, following the calls of their mother. The brood remains together for eight to nine weeks as the ducklings forage for high-protein food such as insects to fuel their rapid growth.
Towards the end of summer, Wood Ducks seek secluded habitats for shelter while they moult. This is important to keep their feathers waterproof, and for males to shed their conspicuous breeding colours. They also build up their fat stores before flying south for winter.