Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Food for young birds and adults differs dramatically. The early diet of ducklings consists largely of insects, aquatic invertebrates, small fish, and other high-protein animal material. After six weeks of age, the young switch to plant foods until their diet consists of approximately 90 percent vegetative material, primarily aquatic plants such as algae, watermeal, watershield, sago pondweed, and duckweed. Adult wood ducks feed on a variety of nuts and fruits, aquatic plants and seeds, and aquatic insects and other invertebrates. Insects and aquatic invertebrates are particularly important food items of adult hens during egg laying in spring. Acorns and other forest mast are important fall and winter foods. While acorns are the primary winter foods, the seeds of bald cypress, hickory, sweet gum, buttonbush, arrow-arum, bur-reed, and wild rice are also common winter foods. Wood ducks feed primarily in shallow water areas, but will also forage on the forest floor for seeds, acorns, and nuts.
Important wood duck food plants. The following species are known to be important food items in the diet of wood ducks. Those species in bold print are of particular value for their usefulness as a winter food source.
These species may be used to enhance vegetation which already exists in and around woodland areas and aquatic habitats. Adding these species to those currently existing will enhance food availability for wood ducks.
oak (acorns) hickory (nuts) elm bald cypress beech (nuts) sweet gum ash button bush maple blackgum bur-reed rice cutgrass arrow-arum wild rice sedge smartweeds barnyard grass nightshade cowlily beggarticks duckweed grape St. John's-wort panic grasses bulrush pondweed watershield waterlily