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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #7: Wood Duck

Wheeeep! Wheeep! This ascending whistled call announces the presence of wood ducks in bottomland woods and marshes in spring and early summer. In a family known for its bold plumage and vivid colors, wood ducks stand out for their particularly beautiful appearance. The male has a bright red bill and eyes, green and white patterned head, chestnut-brown breast, and beige sides, with alternating patches of green and blue on the wings. Females, while more drably colored, have a striking white eye patch that makes them look as exotic as the males.

The exotic look is no accident, as the wood duck has no close relatives in North America. Its closest relative is the mandarin duck, native to eastern Asia. They are the only two members of the genus, Aix.

Male and Female Wood Ducks / Photo by Dave Menke (USFWS)

Wood ducks are unique in another way, as well. Unlike other North American dabbling ducks, wood ducks are cavity nesters. (Most dabbling ducks nest on the ground.) Originally, this meant holes in trees about 20 feet up. Now, in addition to natural cavities, wood ducks will take advantage of nest boxes. Because they are cavity nesters, wood ducks face the threat of predation by squirrels and raccoons. While natural cavities offer little protection against this threat, nestboxes can deter such predation with the use of baffles.

Crossposted at A DC Birding Blog.



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