Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The adult male wood duck in spring plummage is one of our most elaborately marked waterfowl species.
The wood duck is native only to North America, with the United States containing the bulk of the breeding population. In North Dakota, the wood duck breeds mainly along wooded streams and rivers from the Missouri River east to Minnesota. They are early migrants with most leaving North Dakota by early October. Large numbers of wood ducks spend the winter in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Wood ducks often feed along the banks of wooded streams, lakes and ponds where they find seeds and fruits of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. They frequently forage in wooded areas for nuts and berries. While acorns are a favorite food, wood ducks also like corn.
Wood ducks are adept at perching and pairs may be seen sunning themselves on tree branches. They are very capable flyers and fly with surprising speed and agility.
In spring, the male often perches on a branch while the female moves about looking for a suitable nesting cavity. Wood ducks, like all ducks, do not carry nest material to their nests.
The female constructs the nest among the pieces of wood, bark, or other debris found in tree cavities and subsequently lines it with down plucked from her belly during egg laying and incubation. From 10-15 dull white eggs are laid, one each day, generally in the morning. The female begins the four-week incubation period in earnest when the last egg is laid. The male usually stays nearby until the eggs start to hatch.
Female wood ducks have sole responsibility for raising her ducklings. Once the young leave the nest she will spend the next six to 10 weeks moving her brood on and between suitable water areas.
When the ducklings are about 24 hours old, they are ready to leave the nest. The hen calls softly from a nearby limb, the ground or water to entice the young from the nest cavity. The ducklings respond by peeping and jumping toward the entrance. The hen never carries ducklings and they must reach the entrance through a combination of jumping and climbing with their needle sharp claws. Sometimes they perch at the nest entrance before jumping or they may emerge and spring suddenly through the opening. In either case, the fall, even from great heights, does not seem to harm them and they promptly join the hen and their nest mates.
Once all young have left the nest, the female will spend the next six to ten weeks moving her brood on and between suitable water areas. Wood duck broods are very secretive and tend to select water areas with overhanging woody vegetation.