Wood Duck

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Newly Hatched Wood Ducks

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Wood Duck (female and young)

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Wood duck

photo of wood duck
Aix sponsa
Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

Male plumage is very beautiful, with chestnut, tan, green, red, and white. The brownish female has a distinguishing white eye ring that tapers to a point behind the eye. Males in late summer molt to an “eclipse” plumage that resembles the female’s plumage but with more white on the chin, cheeks, and throat. The female’s flight call is a haunting rising whistle, frequently heard in forested wetlands; this may be the only evidence of the bird’s presence. Males give a soft, high whistle.

Length: 18 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Habitat and conservation: 
Common migrant statewide, foraging in swamps, lakes, backwaters of streams, and ponds. Nests in tree cavities usually near water, although often a mile away. Habitat loss and overhunting for meat and plumage caused severe declines in the wood duck’s population by the late 1800s, but federal and state conservation laws helped rescue this species, and artificial nesting boxes have helped increase populations to where they are now stable.
Forages for seeds, berries, and aquatic invertebrates in swamps, lakes, backwaters of streams, and ponds.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Common transient and summer resident; uncommon winter resident (southeast; rare elsewhere).
Life cycle: 
Wood ducks form pairs in midwinter and usually have two broods a year. Clutches comprise 6-16 eggs, which are incubated 28-37 days. The young are covered with down when they hatch and jump from the nest cavity a day after hatching. Nest cavities can easily be 60 feet aboveground and are usually at a place where a branch has fallen off a tree, exposing a rotted, hollow place in the trunk. Wood ducks also readily use specially made nest boxes.
Human connections: 
Popular with duck hunters and with just about anyone able to see their stunning plumage, wood ducks declined because of human actions. They also rebounded because humans made the decision to enact laws to protect this and many other species, and their habitats.
Ecosystem connections: 
Wood ducks eat mostly plant foods, including seeds, nuts such as acorns, fruits, and leaves. They also eat small invertebrates. In turn, wood ducks are preyed upon by animals, such as hawks, and are particularly vulnerable during nesting and when the chicks are incapable of flight.
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