I saw my first Wood Duck some 15 years ago at a little pond within Latodami Nature Reserve in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had heard for some time that Wood Ducks frequented the pond, but I had never been lucky enough to witness one. Then one morning, I noticed a small brown duck emerging from the tangles of dead branches that descended upon the pond from above. I immediately realized the bird was not a female mallard, as it had a conspicuous white circle around its eye. The bird, in fact, was a female Wood Duck. Swimming directly behind her was the dazzling jewel of eastern waterways – the male Wood Duck.
Description/Diet: Wood Ducks are noticeably smaller than the mallards they may congregate with. The average Wood Duck measures about 15 inches in length. During breeding season, the male Wood Duck may be the most colorful bird around, with patches or streaks of green, white, maroon, beige, white, blue, and purple. The male is dark above with a green and purple head highlighted by prominent white streaks and markings. Its bill is yellow, red, white, and black, and its eye is black surrounded by a conspicuous red circle. The male has a maroon breast and beige underparts. The wings show blue patches. For a more detailed description, simply see the photograph above. The female is brown, with a large white eye circle and bright blue wing patches. Male Wood Ducks go through a plumage change in late summer. During this time, male Wood Ducks appear pale and much less colorful. This plumage is known as “eclipse plumage”. Wood Ducks eat aquatic insects, plants, and small crustaceans.
Habitat/Range: Since my first encounter with the beautiful Wood Duck, I have seen many. The lagoons and small ponds that host a broad range of captive ducks at The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. are also home to dozens of wild Wood Ducks. Wood Ducks are now common in ponds, lakes, and streams throughout the east, midwest, and Pacific Northwest. Wood Duck populations have rebounded fully from overhunting during the early 1900′s.
Nesting: Wood Ducks are among the few ducks that actually nest in natural cavities or even man-made nesting boxes. Wood Duck chicks must sometimes tumble 50 feet or more from a tree cavity to the ground.
Wood Duck Video