Saturday, May 16, 2009

At the pond... Wood Duck

Wood DuckWood Duck, Dawson Creek Park, Hillsboro, Oregon on 16 February 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Wood Ducks are medium-sized ducks--smaller than Mallards, larger than teal. The male's brightly-colored plumage gives off an iridescent sheen of blue, green, and violet. The sides are butterscotch. The chest is maroon. Bold white outlines separate the head, chest, and wings from each other. The head sports a large crest that can be laid back or erected prominently (as in the photo above). They eye is reddish-orange.

The female is similar in shape, but mottled brown. It does show a hint of a ragged crest. It has a unique white triangular mask around the eyes. Thus, while not as colorful as the male, it is striking in its own right.

Though unquestionably a colorful and exotic looking duck, the Wood Duck has an equally interesting lifestyle.

For one thing, this duck nests in tree cavities! It is sometimes quite shocking to be walking around in the maple woods near a lake in summer and hear the startling burst of wing beats overhead and hear the rubber duck-like squeaking of this bird flying away. Overhead, this duck displays a rather long squared-off tail in flight. Most ducks have short pointed tails.

Amazingly, when only a few days old, the tiny downy chicks drop ungracefully to the ground from their tree nest--sometimes more than 50 feet in the air! Then they run and waddle along the forest floor to the nearest water where their mother cares for them until they are older.

Wood Ducks breed widely near lakes, river backwaters, and ponds in lowlands from southern Canada to the southern United States, except not in the southern Rocky Mountains or Southwest deserts. In winter many migrate into Mexico. However, in the Pacific Northwest they are found in lower numbers in winter wherever water remains unfrozen. That pretty much means in ponds west of the Cascades and in the Central Valley of California. In the Great Basin they are found in winter along the unfrozen backwaters of the Columbia River and larger tributaries. They are found in Puget Sound, but not along the immediate coast or in salt water.

Wood Ducks readily accept specially-built nest boxes erected near ponds. These boxes may attract Hooded Mergansers, too, as they nest in very similar situations. Nest box plans provided by Ducks Unlimited.

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