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Know your waterfowl

Wood duck

Aix sponsa

Wood duck pair. ©DUC

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.


  • Medium sized perching duck
  • Breeding male has an iridescent green and white crested head, red eyes, red and white bill, chestnut breast, golden flanks and iridescent back
  • Female is a drab version of the male but is considered striking compared to other duck hens


  • Wood ducks typically pair on the wintering grounds or on the return migration to the breeding grounds
  • Arrive on breeding grounds in April
  • Nests 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

Habitat: Wooded wetlands, rivers, streams, lake and river edges.

Range: Breeds in much of southern Canada and the eastern U.S. but is largely absent from U.S. Prairies, Great Plains and southwest. Winter range includes extreme southern Ontario, the southern U.S. and Mexico (in smaller numbers).

Diet: Varied diet includes seeds, fruits, aquatic plants, insects and acorns.

Interesting Facts

  • 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

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