Wood Duck
Aix sponsa 

by Jason Bookheimer 

The Wood Duck is one of the most beautiful ducks in existence.  Aix sponsa, the scientific name for the Wood Duck, translates literally to “water bird in bridal dress” perfectly describes the duck.  They are in the phylum Chordata and class Aves, and their order is Anseriformes.  In most birds the male bird is the most attractive and this is true for the Wood Duck.  Male Wood Ducks can be noticed by their red bill, red eye, green head, striking white stripes about their face, and an extending head crest.  They also have a large white patch and finger like extensions on their cheek and neck.   They also have a white belly, chestnut breast and dark green and blue wings.  Females have a white throat, white eye ring, chestnut breast and also an extending crest from their heads as the males do.  The crest on both the male and female is an extension of feathers that extends a few inches past their head.  On average, in both adult males and females, the length of their body from bill to tail is thirteen and a half inches.  The Wood Duck has, on average, a wingspan of twenty eight inches.    

Wood Ducks cover a very widespread area.  They extend from Nova Scotia west to the north central U.S. and south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.  They tend to migrate south in October into November and north during March and April.  Wood Ducks nest in natural tree cavities and nesting boxes but prefer entrance holes around thirty feet above water.  The Wood Duck’s diet changes dramatically from childhood to adulthood.  Young ducks will eat insects, aquatic invertebrates and small fish.  Within six weeks they will switch to a plant food diet that consists of 90% vegetative material, including algae, water meal, sago pondweed and duckweed.  After reaching full size and entering adulthood they will begin to feed on nuts, fruits, aquatic plants, insects, and invertebrates.  Insects are key in the diet of females during egg laying because of the nutrients they supply, during the winter acorns are their key source of food. 

 Traditionally Indians hunted Wood Ducks as a source of food.  They are still hunted today by many people as a source of food, but a growing population of trophy hunters are simply hunting them for fun.  They are nocturnal birds and tend to live in heavily wooded rivers, lakes, ponds, and creeks.  Wood Ducks can be seen at dusk making their journey back to there home in the traditional flying V.

Written spring 2004, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University.  Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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