Wood duck — Ducks Unlimited Canada Skip to main content

Wood duck

Did you know

Wood ducks are a medium-sized perching duck. The breeding male has an iridescent green and white crested head, red eyes, red and white bill, chestnut breast, golden flanks and an iridescent back. The female is a drab version of the male but is considered striking compared to other duck hens.

Common name: Wood duck
Scientific name: Aix sponsa
Diet: Mainly herbivorous
Average life span: 4 years
Length: 47-54 cm
Weight: 450 g

Food & Habitat

Wood ducks prefer wooded wetlands, rivers, streams, lake and river edges.

The wood duck is mainly a herbivore, with plant foods such as seeds, fruits, aquatic plants, and acorns making up most of its diet. They also eats insects.

Breeding & Population

Wood ducks typically pair on the wintering grounds or on the return migration to the breeding grounds. They arrive on breeding grounds in April and nest in preformed tree cavities made by tree diseases, fire scars, lightning, and cavity-making birds like pileated woodpeckers for nest sites and also use artificial nest boxes. Females lay 7-15 white-tan eggs which they incubate for an average of 30 days. Male begins to spend less time with female once she begins incubating eggs. Females stay with young until they have fledged and then leave to undergo a feather moult.

Wood ducks breed in much of southern Canada and the eastern United States but is largely absent from United States Prairies, Great Plains, and southwest.

Ducklings jump to the ground from their cavity nest one day after hatching, safely jumping from heights of up to 291 feet.


Winter range includes extreme southern Ontario, the southern United States and Mexico (in smaller numbers).

Interesting facts

  • Considered by many to be the most beautiful of North American waterfowl, the wood duck is a perching duck that normally nests in cavities in trees.
  • In southern parts of the breeding range the wood duck regularly produces two broods in a single breeding season—and is the only North American duck to do so.
  • Females will sometimes ‘parasitize’ or lay eggs in the nest of another wood duck.
  • Latin name Aix sponsa means ‘in wedding raiment’.
  • Unlike most other ducks, has sharp claws for perching in trees.

Watch and learn

DUC volunteer in New Brunswick installed nest boxes that wood ducks and hooded mergansers started using. The two species are regular nesters near wetlands in New Brunswick, and don’t always get along—as he saw that year, when a hooded merganser evicted a nesting wood duck to lay her own eggs. Watch what happened and see newly hatched ducklings!