At a Glance
Beautiful and unique, this duck of woodland ponds and river swamps has no close relatives, except for the Mandarin Duck of eastern Asia. Abundant in eastern North America in Audubon's time, the Wood Duck population declined seriously during the late 19th century because of hunting and loss of nesting sites. Its recovery to healthy numbers was an early triumph of wildlife management.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Duck-like Birds, Surface Feeding Ducks
Coasts and Shorelines, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Northern birds migratory; southern females may be permanent residents. Movements of males variable; pairs form on wintering grounds and male follows female to nesting range, so a male might migrate far north one spring and only a short distance the next, depending on the origin of his mate for that year.
17-20" (43-51 cm). Colorful adult male unmistakable for most of year. Female has hint of crest, dark back, white eye-patch on gray head. Male in eclipse plumage resembles female, with more distinct white throat. In flight, Wood Ducks look long-tailed and dark, with a white trailing edge on inner part of wing.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, Red, White, Yellow
Long, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Female, loud wooo-eeek!; male, softer jeee? or ter-weeeee?
Flat, Rising, Simple, Undulating
Wooded swamps, rivers, ponds. Favors shallow inland lakes, ponds, slow-moving rivers, swamps, mainly those surrounded by deciduous or mixed woodland. Often in places where large trees overhang the water, creating shady conditions. Also in open marshes within generally forested country.
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9-14, sometimes 6-15. Dull white to pale buff. Females frequently lay eggs in each others' nests, sometimes in "dump nests" where no incubation ever takes place. Incubation is by female only, 25-35 days.
ducklings remain in nest until morning after hatching. Clinging with sharp claws and bracing with tails, young climb to cavity entrance, jump to ground. Female tends young. Two or more broods may combine. Young are tended by females for 5-6 weeks, capable of flight at about 8-9 weeks. 1 brood per year in north, often 2 in south.
forages in water by taking food from surface, submerging head and neck, occasionally up-ending; also by walking on land.
mostly seeds. Feeds on aquatic plants and their seeds, fallen seeds of trees and shrubs, also insects and crustaceans. Acorns are a major part of diet in many areas. Also comes to fields to feed on waste grain. Young feed mainly on insects and other invertebrates.
Courtship displays of male involve postures that show off colorful plumage. Nest sites are in large tree cavities near water, up to 65' above ground. Cavity lined with down. Rarely nests in hollow fallen logs, barn lofts, crevices in rocks. Uses artificial nest boxes, even when these are placed low and in open marsh.
Early in 20th century, species was thought to be threatened with extinction. Main cause of decline probably loss of nest sites due to cutting of large trees, combined with hunting pressure. Legal protection and provision of nest boxes helped recovery; many thousands of nest boxes now occupied by Wood Ducks in U.S. and southern Canada. In recent years, apparently has been expanding range in north and west.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Wood Duck. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Wood Duck
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.