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Duck of the Month: Wood Duck

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(Aix sponsa)

The wood duck is the only North American member of the group of ducks called perching ducks, formerly the tribe Cairinini, which taxonomists recently dissolved. Most species of this group are now considered members of the tribe Anatini, the dabbling ducks.

The drake wood duck is not only one of the most beautiful ducks in the world, but also one of the most beautiful of all birds. In his nuptial plumage–which he frequently attains in September, much earlier than other dabblers–he is stunning, with a green, blue, and purple, tufted crown that hangs back to his neck. He can raise and fan his crown, and does so while displaying to females. He also has a distinctive white stripe that runs the length of his head from the base of the bill, up over his eyes, and through his crest. The underside of the crest is layered in white, and a white neck ring has a spur that reaches up to just beneath his eyes. The eyes themselves are bright red, and the bill, though tipped in black, is red and white with a yellow margin at the face.

Wood ducks are largely confined to the eastern half of the U.S., south of the Great Lakes, though they are found as far north as southeastern Ontario and Quebec and as far west as California. Their highest densities occur along the rivers of the upper Midwest, the coastal rivers of the Atlantic seaboard, and the Mississippi River and its tributaries in the southern part of the Mississippi Flyway. A separate but smaller population breeds in the Pacific Flyway in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, and British Columbia.

Download wood duck nesting box plans.In February, more than 90% of wood ducks are paired and some wood ducks will begin nesting in flooded bottomlands in the southern Mississippi Flyway.

One of the most challenging tasks currently facing waterfowl managers is the development of wood duck population monitoring programs. Because of the wood ducks fondness for wooded habitat and their secretive nesting behavior, it is difficult for biologist to attain accurate population estimates or other indicators of population status often available for other duck species. This limited ability of biologists to monitor wood duck population status and breeding success, magnifies the importance of banding programs to wood duck harvest management. 

Banding data provides managers with recovery rates for the various age and sex classes that are used to estimate of survival, monitor populations and regulate harvest opportunity. The Wood Duck is typically the second or third most harvested duck in many states behind the Mallard and Gadwall, and therefore monitoring this species through banding is of great importance to duck hunters. 


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