Imagine yourself sitting on the porch at sunrise out in the Louisiana countryside and just as the sun comes up over the horizon, you see wood ducks in the crawfish pond and going in and out of their nest box just behind the B&B. Recently, Barry Toups, the owner of Crawfish Haven/Mrs. Rose’s Bed and Breakfast, captured a photo of a duck in the crawfish pond and a duck sitting on top of the nest house. (Photo at right.)
Male wood ducks are one of the most recognizable birds in the U.S. They are beautiful in color, having 6 different colors on their body. However, they are not colorful year round, only during mating season to attract females. In late summer, they grow gray feathers with blue markings on the wings and white markings on the face and neck.
Wood ducks nest in holes in trees or nest boxes put up around lakes or ponds. Natural habitats are scarce, so putting up nest boxes is ideal. They pair in January. Wood ducks are the only North American ducks that produce two broods per year. The ducklings are born with feathers and leave the nest quickly. They jump out of the nest, even as much as 50’ high, without injury. They eventually make their way to water, so placing nest boxes near water is best, but they will travel distances of 1 – 1 ½ miles to reach water. The mother calls to them and leads the way, but she doesn’t protect them. Wood ducks usually live to about 4 years, but they can also live to be in their teens.
Breeding ducks search for nest sites early in the morning. Typically, the male duck sits on top of the nest while the female checks out the inside. Perhaps that is exactly what is happening in Barry’s photo above. They are not very territorial. In fact, females sometimes visit other wood duck nests, lay eggs in them and leave them to be raised by another female. They typically lay 10-12 eggs, but due to eggs being left in other nests, sometimes there can be up to 29 eggs in a single nest.
Fortunately, for crawfish farmers, wood ducks do not eat crawfish. They have an extensive diet which consists of seeds, insects and other arthropods, acorns, nuts and grain from fields and plant materials.
They are about 19” in length and have a wingspan of about 28-39 inches. Wood ducks fly quite fast, reaching speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Their strong claws allow them to perch on braches or the tops of their nest boxes. They can enter a nest box with holes as small as 4” across, which is ideal to help keep out predators.
The wood duck population declined in the late 19th century. However, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations of wood ducks increased between 1966 and 2014. They can be found throughout the year in the U.S., but some birds breed in Canada and some winter in Mexico.