Wood duck

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The wood duck or Carolina duck (Aix sponsa) is a species of perching duck found in North America. The drake wood duck is one of the most colorful North American waterfowls.[2][3]

Wood duck
Temporal range: Pleistocene–present
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), Parc du Rouge-Cloître, Brussels.jpg
Female Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), Parc du Rouge-Cloître, Brussels.jpg
Male (above) and female wood ducks,
both at Parc du Rouge-Cloître, Brussels
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Aix
A. sponsa
Binomial name
Aix sponsa
Aix sponsa dis1.PNG
Range of A. sponsa
  Breeding range
  Year-round range
  Wintering range

Anas sponsa (Linnaeus, 1758)
Lampronessa sponsa

A male wood duck taking flight
A male wood duck stretching


The wood duck is a medium-sized perching duck. A typical adult is from 47 to 54 cm (19 to 21 in) in length with a wingspan of between 66 to 73 cm (26 to 29 in). The wood duck's weight ranges from 454–862 grams (16.0–30.4 oz).[4] This is about three-quarters the length of an adult mallard. It shares its genus with the Asian mandarin duck (Aix galericulata).[2]

The adult male has stunning multicolored iridescent plumage and red eyes, with a distinctive white flare down the neck. The female, less colorful, has a white eye-ring and a whitish throat. Both adults have crested heads. The speculum is iridescent blue-green with a white border on the trailing edge.[5]

The male's call is a rising whistle, jeeeeee; the females utter a drawn-out, rising squeal, do weep do weep, when flushed, and a sharp cr-r-ek, cr-e-ek for an alarm call.[6]


Their breeding habitat is wooded swamps, shallow lakes, marshes, ponds and creeks in the eastern United States, the west coast of the United States, some adjacent parts of southern Canada, and the west coast of Mexico. They usually nest in cavities in trees close to water, although they will take advantage of nesting boxes in wetland locations. Other species may compete with them for nesting cavities, such as birds of prey, as well as mammals such as grey squirrels, and these animals may also occupy nest boxes meant for wood ducks. Wood ducks may end up nesting up to a mile away from their water source as a result. [7] Females line their nests with feathers and other soft materials, and the elevation provides some protection from predators.[8] Unlike most other ducks, the wood duck has sharp claws for perching in trees and can, in southern regions, produce two broods in a single season—the only North American duck that can do so.[6]

Females typically lay seven to fifteen eggs which incubate for an average of thirty days.[6] However, if nesting boxes are placed too close together, females may lay eggs in the nests of their neighbours, which may lead to nests with thirty eggs or more and unsuccessful incubation—a behaviour known as "nest dumping".[9][10]: 7 

After hatching, the precocial ducklings climb to the opening of the nest cavity, jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way.[8] They prefer nesting over water so the young have a soft landing, but will nest up to 140 m (460 ft) away from the shoreline. The day after they hatch, the young climb to the nest entrance and jump to the ground. The ducklings can swim and find their own food by this time.

Wood ducks feed by dabbling (feeding from the surface rather than diving underwater) or grazing on land. They mainly eat berries, acorns, and seeds, but also insects, making them omnivores.[8] They are able to crush acorns after swallowing them within their gizzard.[11][12]


The birds are year-round residents in parts of its southern range, but the northern populations migrate south for the winter.[13][14] They overwinter in the southern United States near the Atlantic Coast. 75% of the wood ducks in the Pacific Flyway are non-migratory.[14] Due to their attractive plumage, they are also popular in waterfowl collections and as such are frequently recorded in Great Britain as escapees—populations have become temporarily established in Surrey in the past, but are not considered to be self-sustaining in the fashion of the closely related mandarin duck.[citation needed] Along with the mandarin duck, the wood duck is considered an invasive species in England and Wales, and it is illegal to release them into the wild.[15] Given its native distribution, the species is also a potential natural vagrant to Western Europe and there have been records in areas such as Cornwall, Scotland and the Isles of Scilly, which some observers consider may relate to wild birds; however, given the wood duck's popularity in captivity, it would be extremely difficult to prove their provenance.[citation needed] There is a small feral population in Dublin.[citation needed]


The population of the wood duck was in serious decline in the late 19th century as a result of severe habitat loss and market hunting for both meat and plumage for the ladies' hat market in Europe. By the beginning of the 20th century, wood ducks had become rare, almost disappearing in many areas. In response to the Migratory Bird Treaty, established in 1916, and enactment of the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, wood ducks finally began to repopulate. By enforcing existing hunting regulations and protecting woodland and marsh habitat, wood duck populations began to rebound starting in the 1920s. The erection of nesting boxes starting in the 1930s further assisted wood duck conservation.[10] A synopsis of evidence from multiple studies performed by Williams et al. (2020) concluded that providing artificial nesting sites for wildfowl, including wood ducks, is beneficial.[16] Wood duck boxes have been found to be less effective than natural, hollow, dead trees but remain overall beneficial for the population.[17]

Landowners as well as park and refuge managers can encourage wood ducks by building wood duck nest boxes near lakes, ponds, and streams. Fulda, Minnesota, has adopted the wood duck as an unofficial mascot, and a large number of nest boxes can be found in the area.[citation needed]

Expanding North American beaver (Castor canadensis) populations throughout the wood duck's range have also helped the population rebound as beavers create an ideal forested wetland habitat for wood ducks.[14]

The population of the wood duck has increased a great deal in the last several years. The increase has been due to the work of many people constructing wood duck boxes and conserving vital habitat for the wood ducks to breed. During the open waterfowl season, U.S. hunters have been allowed to take only two wood ducks per day in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. However, for the 2008–2009 season, the limit was raised to three. The wood duck limit remains at two in the Central Flyway and at seven in the Pacific Flyway. It is the second most commonly hunted duck in North America, after the mallard.[citation needed]

In popular cultureEdit

In 2013, the Royal Canadian Mint created two coins to commemorate the wood duck. The two coins are each part of a three coin set to help promote Ducks Unlimited Canada as well as celebrate its 75th anniversary.[18] It is featured in James Thurber's short story "The Wood Duck"



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Aix sponsa". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22680104A92843477. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22680104A92843477.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Wood Duck". All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  3. ^ Dawson, William (2007). Neher, Anna (ed.). Dawson's Avian Kingdom Selected Writings. California Legacy. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-1-59714-062-1.
  4. ^ "Wood Duck Identification". All About Birds, TheCornellLab of Ornithology. Cornell University. 2023. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  5. ^ Gough, G.A.; Sauer, J.R.; Iliff, M. (1998). "Wood duck Aix sponsa". Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter. Version 97.1. Laurel, Maryland: Eastern Ecological Science Center. Retrieved 20 February 2023 – via U.S. Geological Survey.
  6. ^ a b c "Wood Duck". Ducks Unlimited Canada. Archived from the original on 11 March 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  7. ^ Hoch, Greg (2020). "Cavities and Boxes". With Wings Extended. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. p. 52. ISBN 9781609386955.
  8. ^ a b c "Wood Duck Fact Sheet, Lincoln Park Zoo". lpzoo.org. Archived from the original on 20 December 2015.
  9. ^ "Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) Dump-Nests". USGS. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. 1 February 2013. Archived from the original on 27 February 2013.
  10. ^ a b Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Leaflet (PDF) (Report). USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  11. ^ Robbins, Chandler S.; Bruun, Bertel; Zim, Herbert S. (1983). Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Illustrated by Arthur Singer (Revised ed.). New York: Golden Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0-307-37002-X.
  12. ^ Morris, Ron (16 April 2021) [Originally published 15 February 2013]. "Birds use different methods to eat". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 24 March 2023.
  13. ^ "Wood Duck". Hinterland's Who's Who. Archived from the original on 23 December 2014. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  14. ^ a b c "Wood Duck". BirdWeb: The Birds of Washington State. Seattle Audubon Society. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  15. ^ Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981
  16. ^ Williams, D.R.; Child, M.F.; Dicks, L.V.; Ockendon, N.; Pople, R.G.; Showler, D.A.; Walsh, J.C.; zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J.; Sutherland, W.J. (2020). "Bird Conservation". In Sutherland, W.J.; Dicks, L.V.; Petrovan, S.O.; Smith, R.K. (eds.). What Works in Conservation 2020. Cambridge, U.K.: Open Book Publishers. pp. 137–281. ISBN 978-1-78374-833-4. Retrieved 20 March 2023 – via Conservation Evidence.
  17. ^ Semel, Brad; Sherman, Paul W. (1995). "Alternative Placement Strategies for Wood Duck Nest Boxes". Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973–2006). 23 (3): 463–471. ISSN 0091-7648. JSTOR 3782956.
  18. ^ "Royal Canadian Mint Coins Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Ducks Unlimited Canada While Honouring Other Icons of Canadian Nature, Culture And History". Mint.ca. 6 March 2013. Retrieved 24 August 2013.

External linksEdit