male Wood duck
Wood Duck

( Aix sponsa )

The Wood duck lives mainly in eastern North America but can be found in smaller numbers on the continent's west coast and even occasionally in northern Mexico. It is related to and shares the same genus as the Asian Mandarin Duck.

While it does migrate from the northern part of its range before winter, a stable non-migratory year-round population can be found in the southern United States along Atlantic coastal regions.

The plumage of the male (see image above) includes green cresting on the head and its distinctive red-circled eyes. The female (see image below), as in many duck species, is less colorful, being mainly a mottled brown, but does have navy blue feathers on her wings.

They can be found in wooded swamps (hence the name Wood Duck), marshes, wetlands, and even shallow lakes. While quite shy, they will use man-made nesting boxes.

Nesting takes place close to water with as many as a dozen eggs laid by the female. Within a day of hatching ducklings crawl out of the nest and head for the water where they are able to swim immediately.

Although a water fowl, wood ducks will perch on trees and their typical food is land-based, berries and seeds being the most common food. But they do eat insects as well. Nothing quite like a tasty bug for a quick snack.

A typical adult bird is about 45 cm (18 inches) long with a 70 cm (28 inch) wingspan which makes it noticably smaller than a Mallard duck.

The wood duck had a close brush with extinction in the 20th Century when the colorful feathers on the male's head became fashionable for women's hats. At the same time over-hunting and rampant habitat destruction seriously threatened the species.

However, a concerted effort by conservationists to ban the feathers from commerial usage, limit hunting, and preserve habitat was successful. Strict hunting limits remain in place, and the wood duck is now considered to have again achieved stable sustainable populations.

Wealthy landowners, particularly in Britain, often have wood ducks swimming about in their private ponds and lakes as a resident decorative animal. Once in awhile a few of the more adventuresome ducks in these estates fly off to other parts of western Europe, but no large sustainable population has taken hold in Europe so far.

Female wood duck with ducklings