Bird Finder for May 4: Wood Duck
The male Wood Duck is one of Connecticut’s most colorful puddle ducks. Wood Ducks are more secretive than some other ducks; they like wet, wooded habitats such as swamps, river banks, lakes, and ponds. Large trees with cavities are essential for breeding if people aren’t assisting with nesting boxes.
What it looks like: The drake is a small to medium sized duck with black, green, white and buff/brown colors and a green crest. The hen is more brown and white with a grayish “helmet” a yellow eye ring and white patch around the eye. If you’re using Cornell Ornithological Lab’s Merlin Bird ID app, insert “size between a crow & goose,” main colors of buff/brown – white and olive/green; and “swimming or wading” to find it.
Where and How to Find It: This time of the year Wood Ducks are found in good nesting habitat. That includes almost all freshwater bodies and wetlands with nearby large trees and adequate cover. To zero in on where the nearest Wood Duck has been seen go to: eBird.org – Explore Data: Species maps function and insert “Wood Duck”; species date: year round current year; location: CT. Then click on any orange or blue hotspot “drop.” So far this year Wood Ducks have been observed at a hundred or more locations with as many as 60 individuals seen at a single site.
Other interesting facts: Like most puddle ducks, wood ducks are omnivores with diverse diets including seeds, fruit, aquatic vegetation and both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.
Unlike other waterfowl, the Wood Duck can perch and nest in trees and is designed to fly through wooded habitats. Everyone has probably seen a video showing wood ducklings dropping great distances from a nest hole in a tree. Individual ducklings have been known to jump 89 meters without injury. Abandoned Pileated Woodpecker holes are frequently recycled as Wood Duck nests, as are other tree cavities.
Wood Duck hens often lay some eggs in other Wood Duck nests. This egg dumping is thought to be a strategy that increases the chance of duckling survival. Hens that dump eggs have a regular nest later in the season. Wood ducks frequently have two broods per season.
In Connecticut, Wood Ducks are among the hunted waterfowl. To hunt Wood Duck, one needs a Connecticut small game hunting license, a Connecticut waterfowl stamp and a federal duck stamp. The hunting season is split, running for a couple of weeks in October and restarting in early November and ending in early January. The daily limit is three ducks and possession limit is nine ducks.
Conservation Status: According to Cornell’s “The Birds of North American Online,” Wood Ducks were seriously impacted by market hunting and were close to extinction before the passage of the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, in 1918. Subsequently hunting regulations at the state and federal level, and wildlife management practices, have resulted in a remarkable recovery in Connecticut and the rest of the bird’s range. Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Count data indicate that populations have increased significantly, and Wood Ducks are now considered to be of least concern by the IUCN.
Photos by Roy McBride (male) and Dick Daniels, Carolinabirds.org.