Acorn duck, American wood duck, Carolina duck, Carolina wood duck, Aquealer, Summer duck, Woodie
The Wood duck is among the most stunningly beautiful of all water birds. Males are iridescent green and chestnut, with ornate patterns on almost every feather, while the elegant female has a delicate white pattern around her eye and a distinctive profile. These birds inhabit wooded swamps, where their nests are in holes up in trees or in the nest boxes around lake margins. These are one of a few duck species that have strong claws to perch on branches and grip bark. In 1918 this species was near extinction as a result of habitat loss and hunting. Wildlife management has fortunately protected this species so that it is amongst the most common ducks today in the eastern US.
Wood ducks are widespread across North America. Larger population breeds in Manitoba east to Nova Scotia, also south to Florida, Texas, the Gulf of Mexico and Cuba. There is also a small Pacific coast population that breeds from British Columbia in Canada to California in the United States. This bird is partially migratory, northern populations moving south for the winter, all the way to Mexico. Wood ducks frequents many habitats, including wooded areas on the banks of lakes, freshwater ponds, and quiet rivers, needing well-wooded areas when nesting.
Wood ducks walk, fly and swim. They are diurnal and sleep on the water, except for females with ducklings. They are social birds and often gather in the evening. They migrate in small flocks or pairs. Although not territorial, they will protect their mates by chasing, pecking and hitting. Such battles are often short. When threatening another bird, they will jerk and jab with their beaks. Males are assumed to be dominant over females, adults over young birds. Adults have 12 calls and ducklings have 5. Most calls made by adults are warning calls or to attract mates. Males and females both have pre-flight calls, and females have calls for locating their mate and calling their ducklings. Ducklings can make calls at 2 to 3 days old, have alarm, threatening and contact calls.
This species is serially monogamous, with a male staying with one female during one breeding season but mating with a different female for the next year. A male uses his colorful plumage to attract a female, while a female uses a loud penetrating call when attracting males. There are several courtship displays, including mutual preening and a wing-and-tail-flash, when a male raises his wings and tail rapidly, showing his broadside to the female. When mating is over, males migrate to a different location to molt. These ducks breed in February to early March in the southern areas, where they may raise two broods per breeding season, while in the north it is mid-March to mid-April. They nest alone in a tree close to water, sometimes above. 6-15 whitish eggs are laid, incubated by the female for about one month, who then rears them on her own. The ducklings leave their nest around 24 hours after hatching. They begin to feed themselves as soon as they have left the nest, and after about 56-70 days old they are independent. Ducklings are mature when they are one year old.
Due to habitat destruction and hunting, wood ducks were nearly extinct in the early 1900s. Today they are thriving, despite being hunted. The greatest threat is perhaps habitat degradation and loss, due to drainage of swamps and further human activities which destroy or alter forested wetlands.
According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the Wood duck is around 3.5 million individuals. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are increasing.