Photo: Harry Collins/Audubon Photography Awards

Wood Duck

Aix sponsa

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat 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.
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.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

forages in water by taking food from surface, submerging head and neck, occasionally up-ending; also by walking on land.


Eggs

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. Young: 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.


Young

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.

Diet

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.


Nesting

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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Female, loud wooo-eeek!; male, softer jeee? or ter-weeeee?
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Wood Duck

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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.