Wood Duck
Aix sponsa


Male and female wood ducksContext

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae

Male and female Wood Ducks. Photograph by Dave Menke, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Physical Characteristics

About 17-20.5 inches (43-51 cm) in length (Peterson, 1990). The wing span is approximately 28-29 inches (70-73 cm). The male has a metallic-green crest with blue and purple, the head is white-lined, white throat; the female is primarily brownish (Forbush and May, 1955). The tail is long and square, the neck short, and the bill points downward. When viewed from below, the white belly, dusky wings, and long square tail are identifiers. Identifiers of the female are the dark crested head and white eye patch (Peterson, 1990). The upper wing surface and back are mostly an iridescent blue-green, the breast maroon with white spotting, the tail coverts are black, brown, and maroon, and the tail is iridescent greenish- black. The eyes are red, legs and feet are yellow, and the bill patterned in black, white, and red (Johnsgard, 1978).


A. sponsa is normally found in areas around rivers, lakes, and swamps near deciduous forests or woods (Leopold, et al., 1981).

Geographic Range

This species is found primarily in western North America from southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta south to central coastal California west to Montana and west-central Nevada; and in the eastern North America from east-central Saskatchewan, central and southeastern Manitoba, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia south to central and southeastern Texas, the Gulf coast, southern Florida, and Cuba. The wood duck winters in the southern portions of its range as well as southern Kansas, southern Iowa, the Ohio Valley, and New England, thence west to southern New Mexico. It also occurs in Cuba and the Bahamas (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


The Wood Duck is primarily a vegetarian, preferring nuts (acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts are favorites), seeds of floating leafy aquatic plants, and the vegetative parts and seeds of other aquatic plants. By tipping, they can gather materials from as much as 18 inches (45 cm) below the water's surface; they generally do not dive for food (Johnsgard, 1978).

Reproductive Characteristics

This species tends to nest in tree cavities; however, they will use chimneys, stovepipes, or even the ground ( Forbush and May, 1955). The male accompanies the female during the selection process, yet she is responsible for the final selection (Johnsgard, 1978). The ideal home is located in a grove of trees over water or at least within a half mile of sheltered water. The female lays 10-14 eggs which hatch after 30 days. A clutch may range in number from 30-50 eggs because of dump nesting (Leopold, et al., 1981). A few days after hatching, the female calls her brood to the ground, and they then walk to water. The ducklings are well equipped to climb out of their trees since they have sharp claws and beaks or, if they choose, they fall softly from tree to ground (Forbush and May, 1955). The young will feed on invertebrates (Leopold, et al., 1981). Females normally leave their broods after 6 weeks, leaving the young the remainder of their 60-day fledgling period (Johnsgard, 1978).


The Wood Duck is also known as the Carolina Duck and Woodie in the United States (Johnsgard, 1978). The inhabitants of the northernmost regions of their range begin migration in September. They begin in small flocks and family groups and then, as they travel farther south and more groups join the migration, the flock becomes quite large (Forbush and May, 1955). The male voice is capable of quite a range, from the loud, distressed whoo-eek> to the finch-like jeee. The female is heard as creek, creek (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Forbush, E.H., and J.B. May. 1955. A natural history of American birds of eastern and central North America. Bramhall House, New York, 552 pp.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1978. Ducks, geese, and swans of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 404 pp.

Leopold, A.S., R.J. Gutierrez, M.T. Bronson. 1981. North American game birds and mammals. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 198 pp.

Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996; A. H. Harris, 19 February 2000.


Last Update: 13 Mar 2009