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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Wood Duck -- Aix sponsa

RANGE: Breeds in western North America from southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta south to central California and western Montana; in eastern North America from east-central Saskatchewan east to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia south (east of the Rockies) to central and southeastern Texas and the Gulf Coast. In the West, winters irregularly throughout the breeding range; in the East, winters primarily in the southern parts of the breeding range.

STATUS: Common; population has increased in recent years primarily because of the availability of artificial nest structures and protection for most of the year.

HABITAT: Inhabits woodlands near shallow, quiet inland lakes, swamps, river bottoms, ponds, marshes, and streams where nest sites are available. Important forest types are central and southern floodplain forests, red maple swamps, temporarily flooded oak forests, and northern bottomland hardwoods. Prefers areas with many perching sites.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Nest holes in trees or nest boxes in or near still or slow-moving water.

NEST: Prefers to nest in natural cavities 20 to 50 feet above ground with entrance holes of 4 inches in diameter, cavity depths of 2 feet, and cavity bottoms measuring 10 by 10 inches. Uses nest trees in (or up to one-half mile from) water 3 to 18 inches deep. Readily accepts nest boxes provided with nesting materials of wood shavings or sawdust.

FOOD: Eats about 90 percent plant material. Forages in ponds, marshes, sluggish streams, or along wooded banks for floating duckweeds, baldcypress cones and galls, seeds and tubers, wild rice, acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, grapes, berries, corn, and wheat. Also eats some invertebrates, such as spiders and aquatic insects.

REFERENCES: Bellrose 1976, Grice and Rogers 1965, McGilvrey 1968, Palmer 1976b, Terres 1980.

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