Species Profile: Aix sponsa – Wood Duck
Scientific Name: Aix sponsa
Common Name(s): Wood Duck, Carolina Duck
The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is a medium sized, unmistakable North American duck most known for its beautiful colors. Males have the most color in fall through early summer, with iridescent feathers of multiple colors. Their heads are green at the top, then transition to purple, pink, and blue. They have multiple white outlines on their head, neck, and body, distinctive red eyes, and a red, white, and black bill. Females are more grayish brown in color, with their sides a lighter shade than their backs. They have some bluish feathers on their wings and white that surrounds their eyes. Females’ bills are gray. Both males and females have long feathers that hang off the back of their heads. Out of breeding season, males resemble females but often keep their red bills and have light blue feathers on their wings. Adults average 19-21inches with a wingspan of 26-29inches.
The wood duck is a North American migratory species, moving south for the winter in northern parts of its range. They remain as year-round residents in southern parts of their range.
Wood ducks prefer water bodies that have forest habitat nearby. They can be found near lakes, marshes, rivers, and streams. Wood ducks like to perch in trees to avoid predators, especially during breeding season when they are nesting. The male call sounds like a squeaky whistle, while the female call is louder and longer.
Juvenile wood ducks consume aquatic bugs and small fish. Adults feed mainly on plants, seeds, berries, and nuts, although they will eat insects as well.
During breeding season, males attract females with their call and iridescent colors. Once paired, they build nests in tree cavities. Sycamore trees overhanging water are common nesting choices. Where nesting sites are scarce, they will nest up to one mile away from water. Hatchlings routinely jump from heights of up to 50 feet landing on leaf pack unhurt. Parents then lead them to the nearest water body. Nest boxes are readily used. Females line their nest with soft feathers or other materials and then lay eggs. If a female cannot find a nest of her own, she will lay her eggs in another female’s nest. This can decrease survivability because one female is unable to adequately incubate a large number of eggs. Females normally lay 7-15 eggs and incubate them for around one month. Egg dumping in nest boxes with no intention of incubation is also a fairly common practice.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 has helped wood duck populations recover from threateningly low numbers. This Act regulates the hunting of migratory birds and prevents them from being sold. Before this Act, many wood ducks were killed for their feathers to make women’s hats. Widespread harvest of mature timber more than 100 years ago also limited nesting sites. Eastern forest lands have sense recovered, and so has the wood duck.
Here in Bella Vista, wood ducks can potentially be seen on any lake, stream, or pond. They tend to be secretive and enjoy the water line at the back of coves. With plenty of water and surrounding forested habitat, Bella Vista is a great place for wood ducks.