Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
The life of a writer is busier than most would imagine, especially when a book is being edited and wrapped up for publication. I love every minute of what I do, but sometimes it does get in the way of other fun things I enjoy, like sharing facts and pictures of what is surely the most beautiful of all our native ducks, the wood duck. (This is my humble apology for taking so long to get back to you, and I hope you'll forgive me for my absence, when you see what I've got for you today.)
Let's start with just taking a long look at the bird above. The colors are rich and brilliant, and the crisp, white detailing sets each shade off to perfection. Give him a bright red eye, and a red and black bill, and you have a jewel-like little duck that's hard to resist. I even love the neat little tan dots marching up his breast in perfect rows. Yep. He's a beauty, and there's no getting around it. Here's another picture, just to prove my point.
"Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."
Charming, isn't he?
The wood duck is a perching duck found year-round in Florida, enjoying our woodland ponds and river swamps. It is the most colorful of our native waterfowl, and shares its genus only with the even more colorful Asian Mandarin duck. While Mandarin ducks are often seen in local zoos and aviaries, and occasionally as escapees here in central Florida, they are not native to the United States. But here's a picture to show you that it IS possible to be even brighter and gaudier than our native woodies.
Doesn't look like it could possibly be real, does it?
Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata).
Now back to the lovely wood duck.
A typical adult wood duck is about three-quarters the size of a mallard, or 19" to 21" in length, with a wingspan of 26" to 29". Even from a distance, the rich burgundy, tan, and iridescent green coloration is obvious. You really can't mistake this bird for anything else--unless you are looking at a female, of course, in which case her plainer coloration will make her much less conspicuous. That's a trick nature uses often, intended to make female birds less obvious when they are on their nests. The male wood duck undergoes a change of plumage in late summer, becoming very drab, too, for a short time. This is called being in eclipse plumage, though as far as I know, it has nothing to do with any spectacular heavenly events. A male in eclipse plumage is even plainer than the female below, but he does not sport the crisp, white, and very noticeable eye ring that the female displays, so it's fairly easy to tell him from the gals.
Female Wood Duck Showing Off Her White Eye Ring.
Finally Found a Good Pic of a Male Wood Duck In Eclipse Plumage
(Notice he does not have the sharp, white eye ring of the female bird)
An interesting trait shared by both our native wood ducks and the Asian mandarin duck is a flattened head silhouette. This squared-off profile is unique to them, as far as I know. (I like to leave myself wiggle room, in case I learn differently.) This next picture shows that flattened or squared-off head shape quite clearly. Kinda looks like a helmet, doesn't it? Even on the female.
Why do I have an overwhelming urge to name this pair "Darth and the Missus?"
(I mean, LOOK at that female's head! Does anyone else hear the Imperial March music in the background?)
Wood ducks get their name from their habit of perching in trees and nesting in tree cavities. They are also very nimble little ducks, and have no trouble flying through wooded areas at fairly high speeds. And that brings us to Bringing Up Baby time. Beside the stunning coloration of these ducks, these guys are famous for their nesting habits and their adorable babies. I think you're gonna love these next photos. The female wood duck typically lays between 7 and 15 white-tan eggs in the tree cavity (or nest box) of her choice. The eggs take about 30 days to hatch, at which point, the fun begins.
First the female checks out the accommodations, in this case a nice nest box, placed near a pond or lake.
Then, before you know it, the kids are grown and ready to leave. What? They don't look grown to you?
Well . . .
. . . maybe somebody should tell THEM that. They seem to think they've had enough
of this nest box thing, so they take the plunge.
These little guys are fearless, leaping from their nest boxes or from tree cavities, only a DAY after they hatch!
One after the other, they plunge 15 or 20 feet to the ground, bouncing a bit upon
landing, and are ready to follow Mama into the water for their first swim.
See? Utterly fearless! Mama will stand below, offering a few peeps of encouragement,
and the crazy little guys just go for it! How cute is that?
When all are present and accounted for, off they go.
Nothing like a refreshing dip after a 20 foot fall from a tall tree!
"Eyes right, guys. I'm going this way!"
Baby wood ducks are just about as cute as it gets. Add that to their nesting behavior, and the stunning adult plumage they soon grow into, and you have ducks that are almost impossible to resist. The kind of birds that make even non-birding people take notice. And like those other tree nesting ducks we talked about a couple of posts ago (black-bellied whistling ducks), wood ducks don't quack either. To hear for yourself, go here: Wood Ducks Calling Note: There are four different recordings here, with a wide variety of peeps and squeals, but nary a quack among them.
A pic of just about the cutest little baby duck in the world.
(Doesn't he look full of himself, as he explores his lily pad?)
Sadly, cute isn't always a guarantee of protection. In the 1900s the wood duck population was depleted seriously, both by loss of habitat and by hunting. They were, and still are, the second most widely hunted duck in America, right after the mallard. One good thing is that they are no longer hunted so that their feathers can adorn ladies' hats. But they are considered very good eating, and are prized as wall mounts, too. (I'm not anti-hunting, though it's not for me, but for the life of me, I'd have to be starving before I could kill one of these little birds.)
The good news is, today, due to a still-ongoing intensive management program, wood duck numbers have increased greatly. Habitat protection, the addition of nest boxes throughout their range, and restrictions on hunting seasons and limits have made all the difference. With any luck, the wood duck will be around for our grandchildren and THEIR grandchildren to enjoy!
It would be a crying shame to say goodbye to guys like this!
As you can see from this range map, the wood duck is very wide spread in North America,
and is found year-round in Florida.
Here are a few more images for your viewing pleasure!
Happy Computer Chair Birding!
And I think that about wraps up today's look at wood ducks.
I hope you've enjoyed it, and you know what I always say here, right?
Don't forget to look UP now and then.
You never know what might be looking down at you!
Stay tuned for more fun #NotesFromTheRiver stuff!
Until then, why not plan a cruise on the Naiad, and go
duck watching, yourself?
You'll be glad you did!