Wood ducks are common nesters in Missouri and often winter in the southern part of the state.

Species: Wood duck

Scientific name: Aix sponsa

Nicknames: Woody

Claim to fame: Wood ducks are considered by many to be the most colorful waterfowl species. They are also one of the species included in Missouri’s waterfowl hunting seasons.

Species status: Wood ducks are common nesters in Missouri and often winter in the southern part of the state. Wood ducks are common throughout much of the eastern part of the continent and are also found in western coastal areas. This current abundance is the result of a nation-wide conservation effort. By the late 1880s, unregulated hunting and destruction of the bird’s woodland and wetland habitat had caused the country’s wood duck population to drop to alarmingly low levels. Improved federal wildlife regulations (the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1916 and the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918) and personal conservation efforts (the erection of nesting boxes) began to revive wood duck populations. Today, the wood duck is one of the most common waterfowl species that breeds in the United States.

First discovered: Wood ducks were known to Native Americans and to early pioneers.

Family matters: Wood ducks belong to the Anatidae family, a group that includes all waterfowl species.

Length: 17 to 20 and one-half inches long

Diet: The primary food for adults is acorns, which the bird gathers in shallow flooded areas or on the ground. It will eat alternative seed crops and, sometimes, waste grain when available.

Weight: Approximately 1 ½ pounds

Distinguishing characteristics: As with most bird species, the male is more colorful than the female. The head of the male is iridescent green, blue and purple, with two white lines that run parallel to each other from the base of the bill and behind the eye to the back of the head. The male also has a white chin and throat, red eyes, red at the base of the bill, a deep rust-colored chest, bronze sides and a black back and tail.

Life span: Data not available

Habitat: Wood ducks spend most of their time in water or in forests, always being close to a creek, river, pond or swamp.

Life cycle: Wood ducks usually begin nesting in March in Missouri. The wood duck is a cavity nester and will also use man-made nest boxes when natural cavities are limited. The female usually lays between six and 15 eggs. Like several other bird species, wood ducks can lay eggs in other nests as well as its own. Experts are uncertain about the reasons for this behavior. In some cases, it’s probably because the female’s original nest has been destroyed. In other instances, it may be a case of a female who wanted to increase the chance of its offspring’s survival by not “putting all her eggs in one basket.” Females incubate eggs for approximately 30 days. After the young hatch out of the eggs, they remain in the nest for 24 hours. The female then coaxes the young out of their cavity nest and leads them to the nearest water. The female will continue to care for the young for up to 70 days, at which time they become independent.