Wood Duck drake crossing in front of Mallard hen at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California.
The drake (or male) Wood Duck is brightly colored. He is bright green with iridescent purple with bold white markings on his face, a red bill with a yellow base, and red eyes. He has a large crest of green, white, and purple. He is a stand-out kind of drake. The female is gray and brown with a few white markings. She does have a few areas of purple iridescent sheen. She has a white horizontal tear drop surrounding each eye. She is sometimes confused with the female Mandarin Duck (an exotic escapee), but the tear-drop of white around the eye is diagnostic. See my post "Wood Duck or Mandarin Duck?"
Wood Duck hen in the water at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California. Notice the white tear drop around the eye.
Wood Ducks eat acorns, pecans, and other nuts, seeds, aquatic invertebrates, insects, green plants, and fruits. From fruit to nuts, from pill bugs and snails to butterflies, there isn't much they won't eat. There is even a short blurb in journal about a Wood Duck who ate a mouse--but that is very rare. It is obvious why there are Wood Ducks in Irvine Regional Park. It is because there are so many trees, acorns, and so much water.
The Wood Duck is a cavity nester. It makes its nest in tree cavities. So in addition to woodlands, lakes, streams, ponds, or any body of fresh water, the resident Wood Duck needs trees nearby with cavities in which it can nest. Since there has been so much loss of habitat, many types of conservationists from hunters (yes, most hunters are conservationists) to birders have been looking at what can be done to provide nesting habitat for Wood Ducks. Nesting boxes has been a very successful solution, and the nest boxes that people build for Wood Ducks have provided nesting cavities for thousands of ducks. The Wood Duck Society is an organization that provides nest boxes for these beautiful ducks. There is an Orange County Chapter of the Wood Duck Society. At least one local Orange County park with suitable habitat has Wood Duck nest boxes attached to its trees. I have seen Wood Ducks fly into the nest boxes, and I believe that they do nest in Orange County in nest boxes and in tree cavities.
Wood Ducks are seasonally monogamous. Not a big selling point for boyfriends or husbands, but pretty amazing for ducks in general. Wood Ducks have a courtship in which the flashy male shows off his crest and some mutual preening occurs. The hen finds a tree cavity or nest box lays up to 15 eggs. The male heads off to molt alone. So he misses the big show. The hen usually produces two broods a year. When nest boxes are placed too close together, hens sometimes lay eggs in each other's nests leading to harmfully high numbers of eggs in a nest. This over burdened nest is called a dump-nest, and is not a good thing for the ducks. So nest boxes are usually places far enough apart to discourage this behavior.
Wood Duck hen courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service--Photographer Dave Menke. Notice the horizontal white tear drop around the eye.
Breeding season is from January through April, but as late as June in some areas. The nest boxes and cavities can be quite high. Ducklings cannot fly like the mother and father can. Since the duckling must get out of the nest box and there is no ladder, they must jump sometimes hundreds of feet to the ground below. The mother stands on the ground and calls the ducklings. They respond, one by one by climbing up to the hole and jumping down. It looks like mass bungee jumping without the bungee as one duckling after the other jumps and bounces on the ground. Take a look below.
Three views of the ducklings jumping out of the nest: Inside the nest, from a distance, and over the exit. YouTube Video.
Although the longest living Wood Duck recorded was approximately 15 years old, most live only 3-4 years. They protect themselves by sleeping on the water. Their enemies are foxes, raccoons, snakes, and Great Horned Owls. It is a good thing the hen has so many ducklings because the mortality rate among Wood Duck ducklings is very high.
You will find Wood Ducks from Southern Canada and south through Mexico. They breed as far south as Southern California. Lots of Wood Ducks come south to winter in Southern California and add to winter population.
Wood hen and drake swimming at Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California .
I love to go birding in areas with Wood Ducks. The lakes, streams, and the trees make for a quiet and restful walk. When you are birding in the OC or in L.A., check out the places below where Wood Duck have been seen. I doubt that you will be disappointed.
Where to Find Wood Ducks in Orange County and Los Angeles
(This is not an exhaustive list.)
Craig Regional Park
Yorba Regional Park
Los Angeles Arboretum
External Links and Resources
All About Birds: Wood Duck
Animal Diversity Website: Wood Duck
Thorough article written by students at Michigan State.
BirdWeb: Wood Duck
Informative Article from the Seattle Audubon Society.
California Waterfowl: Wood Duck Program
Details on the program which seeks to increase the number of Wood Ducks in California. Includes Wood Duck box instructions. Hunters are involved in this effort.
ConserveNature.org: Wood Duck
Good article from this New York website.
Hinterland Who's Who: Wood Duck
Nice article from Canadian site.
How to Build a Wood Duck Nest Box
Instructions on how to build a Wood Duck Nest Box.
Life History and Habitat Needs of the Wood Duck
Detailed information from USGS's Waterfowl Management Handbook.
Management of Wood Ducks on Private Lands and Waters
Good information on Wood Ducks and what they need.
STMA Schools: Wood Duck Cam
Wood Duck Cam clips in off season and live Cam in breeding season.
USGS: Wood Duck
Short, but helpful article. Also see their page on Wood Duck boxes.
Wood Duck Society
An organization over 100 years old that is all about Wood Ducks and nest boxes.
American Kestrels Sit on Wood Duck Eggs
Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 87, No. 4, October-December, 1975