Bird of the Month: Wood Duck
By Hugh Jennings
Scientific Name: Aix sponsa
Length 18.5 in
Wingspan 30 in
Weight 1.3 lb
AOU Band code WODU
The Wood Duck (WODU) is about 18.5” long with a wingspan of 30” and weight of 1.3 lb. (600g). The genus name Aix (AIKS) is from Greek, aix, a water bird. The species name sponsa from Latin, a betrothed, a bride, or “promised one”, in reference to its exquisite plumage, as though it were “arrayed for bridal” or marriage. Wood refers to its preferred habitat.
The WODU male has a distinctive colorful head with white throat, partial neck-ring, and chinstrap all connected. The crest and face are green, bill has pink base and the eye is red. In eclipse plumage, the male is similar to the female but still has a hint of the white facial markings. The female is brownish gray with a darker crown and broad white eye-ring which is distinctive.
The WODU is a fairly common resident throughout Washington. It favors shallow inland lakes, ponds, slow moving rivers, swamps, mainly those surrounded by deciduous or mixed woodland. It also likes open marshes within forested country.
They feed on aquatic plants and their seeds, fallen seeds of trees and shrubs, and insects and crustaceans. Acorns are a major part of the diet in many areas and they also feed on waste grain. The voice is thin, squeaky whistles. Female gives a penetrating squeal ooEEK ooEEK. The male’s is a thin, high, drawn-out jweeep or sweeooo, kip kip kip. The courtship display of the male involves postures that show off the colorful plumage.
Nest sites are in large tree cavities near water and up to 65’ above water. It also uses man-made nest boxes, even when placed low and in open marsh. The nest is of wood chips and down. There are 10-15 dull white eggs. Females frequently lay eggs in each other’s nests, sometimes in “dump nests” where no incubation ever takes place. Incubation lasts 27-30 days and the young fledge in 56-70 days.
When the young are ready to leave the nest hole, they just step off into space and fall to the base of the tree, usually bouncing once or twice. But they are light and indestructible and get up on their feet. The female leads them off to water. There may be two broods in a year in the south.