Monday, April 26, 2010

Someone went wild with the paint brush when the “Woodie” was created. You can’t help but notice the male Wood Duck’s brightly colored and multicolored plumage. However, the artist didn’t stop there; he went on to embellish this little guy with white stars and bars, a perky crest, a red eye and a distinctive reddish bill! The Woodie is secretive and shy. It is not easy to find because its usual habitat is wooded areas. We were lucky enough to find several city parks (yes in the middle of the big city!) which had nest boxing programs where these ducks were breeding.

The male has jewel-like colors of green, purple and blue with a white spotted rusty colored breast bordered by white bars, tan sides and iridescent blue wing patches. He has a white chin and white face stripes with a mostly red bill. The female looks brown; however, she is really of combination of shinny soft bronzes, and blues. She has lighter flanks, a white belly, a dark crest, and a white tear drop shape around the eyes. Both have large eyes in relation to their bodies. The juvenile is like the female but is spotted below. A male in eclipse looks like the female but will have a lot of white under the chin while still retaining his red bill.

The Wood Duck is found in wooded swamps, rivers and ponds. It will visit fresh water marshes in the late summer and fall. It winters on the Pacific Coast north to Washington and in six states of the Deep South.

When it swims, it bobs its head back and forth, but rarely dives. It is a surface feeder, feeding on plant materials. It also feeds on duckweed, insects, invertebrates, berries, nuts, seeds, and acorns which are crushed in its gizzard. When not feeding, the Wood Duck can be found standing on one leg on fallen trees or stumps, preening and resting. It may look like it is half asleep but it is always on alert. It can rise almost vertically into the air. It flies rapidly and it is agile enough to dodge through the trees. It makes a sound like a rising whistle. The Woodie’s legs are more forward on the body so it can perch in trees.

Most of the mating ducks head north, but young female Wood Ducks typically nest close to where they were hatched. In Wood Ducks, preening around the eyes and face is an important part of courtship. The courtship and mating takes place on the water or even under the water. Females may lay several clutches. The nest is a bed of down in a tree cavity high off the ground, but they will also nest in boxes. If nesting boxes are too close together, the female may lay eggs in her neighbors nest. This can result in clutches of up to 40 eggs and incubation often fails. When things are normal, the female lays 10-15 whitish eggs. The male does not incubate. He will desert the female before the eggs hatch and will congregate with other males while he molts. When the ducklings are about a day old, the female will call to them and the young will jump from their nest, opening their tiny wings to help brake the fall. The female prefers her nest to be near or over water so when the ducklings jump, they can swim and find food as soon as they leave the nest. She remains with them about 8-10 weeks until they are able to fly.

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