Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of
several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
The male and female wood duck are very compatible.
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The Most Beautiful Ducks in the World
The wood duck is usually (and widely) regarded as the most beautiful duck in
America (probably the world), although by the early part of the 20th century,
hunters had almost completely wiped out this gorgeous bird. Had it not been
for the protective laws that put an end to the slaughter, the wood duck might
very well have ended up on the list of extinct species. But, some hunters are
gung-ho and think it is worth risking jail time in order to bag some of these
In 2008, 12 hunters in Tennessee killed a total of 169 wood ducks on the
opening weekend of the wood duck/teal hunting season. They did this despite
State regulations that limit hunters to no more than two wood ducks a day in
September. That means that this particular hunting party should have bagged no
more than 48 ducks over that weekend. In the end, the men (most of them; one
was a minor) ended up in court and paid hefty fines, court costs, restitution
each and the loss of their hunting privileges for four years. The punishment
was proof that violation of the already-generous law will not be tolerated.
A wood duck is crested and long-tailed. The male has bold white patterns on
his face with a red bill, chestnut breast, and buff flanks. The female wood
duck is a dark gray with a white eye patch. Usually, when they are found, they
are seen in pairs like the ones shown in the above photographs.
Starlings post a real threat to wood ducks. The female will build her nest on
top of the one built by the wood duck, essentially taking over the nesting
area. When the wood duck hen tries to return to her nest, she is often
The Threats They Face From Starlings
In some areas, starlings can wipe out wood duck production because they are
cavity nesters, competing assertively for the use of nest boxes. After being
introduced from Europe in 1890, they have spread all across the United States,
having totally overlapped the range of the wood duck.
Starlings are real threats to wood ducks.
Starlings are considered an alien species of bird and are not protected by
law; they are one of many bird species that have been responsible for global
and local extinctions and have eroded the beauty and unique features of many
natural environments. Today, despite efforts to limit their numbers, they are
one of the most common birds in America.
During the prospecting and egg-laying phases for wood ducks, the starlings
begin their interference; the wood duck hen is only present for brief periods
each day, and the starlings puncture holes in the wood duck’s eggs when the
hen is absent. Usually, they will bury the duck eggs under the materials that
use to construct their own nest, which is built above the nest the wood ducks
The wood duck hen, upon her return to the nest, is often attacked by the
starlings that are now aggressively defending their own nest. Often, a group
of starlings will physically attack the hen, pecking at her head and affixing
themselves to her back.
Many people have tried many preventive solutions to the problem the wood ducks
face from the starlings, but it seems the only thing that works, in the long
run, is to target the starlings in an attempt to lower and limit their
numbers. Traps have been designed for placement inside a wood duck house, and
those have proven successful. Armed people in rural areas are also prepared to
do whatever is necessary to protect their beautiful wood ducks.
This wood duck nesting box is close enough to the water and includes a
protective guard to keep predators away.
Placement of Nesting Boxes
Wood duck hens have historically built their nests in natural tree cavities,
but studies have shown that only a very small percentage of those hatched
successfully. This is largely because of predatory raccoons. Today, with the
help of those who love the ducks and want to see them thrive, nest boxes are
being built in order to protect the ducks from climbing predators. ****
It may be tempting to place a nesting box high in a tree, but that’s a method
that didn’t work very well for the wood ducks. People now, in an attempt to
stave off the predators, have started building the nests lower to the ground
and mounting them on poles that have an effective predator guard. They have
realized that higher mounted boxes are more dangerous than the ones that are
built lower, and studies have apparently shown that the low-mounted boxes are
actually preferred by the wood duck hen.
When and if you decide to build a nesting box, build it about a foot across
and about 20–24 inches tall to accommodate several hens and up to 30–40 eggs.
And, don’t be disappointed if your nesting box isn’t used right away; it might
take them a year or two to decide to use it. If, after three years, it hasn’t
been used, you probably need to simply relocate it.
Wood ducks hunt for food while they are swimming, earning the name “dabbling
Photography by Vineeth Radhakrishnan
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Maintaining Nesting Boxes
If you intend to maintain your nesting box, you should plan to do an annual
inspection in either January or March. At that time, you should make any
needed repairs, remove old nests, and add some fresh material for the ducks
that are unable to carry their own nesting materials.
A successful wood duck nest box program requires annual inspection sometime in
January and March. This annual cleaning needs to be a part of your long-term
maintenance commitment once you place your nest box.
It is very important to check the predator guard at least once a year. The
best way to keep predators away from the boxes (on trees) is to install metal
bands around the trunk. If you’ve taken our suggestion above and have built
your boxes on posts, place an inverted metal cone below the box.
Watch Out for Limbs
If your nest is built close to overhanging limbs, REMOVE THEM, as snakes and
raccoons can approach the nest by climbing out onto the limbs, and you will
have provided a protective guard for nothing. Never underestimate the
intelligence of a raccoon or the sneakiness of a snake.
Soon, these baby wood ducks will be leaving the safety of the nesting box and
will jump to the water or ground below the nest, which is sometimes 50 feet
Beginning in April, a wood duck hen will pull out some of her feathers around
her mid-section in order to line her nest, which will be hidden in a natural
tree cavity or one made by man. Some nests are as much as 50 feet off the
The hen will lay up to 15 cream-colored eggs (normally around 5–10), which she
will incubate for about a month or more. The young will grow quickly and will
be flying at about 8–10 weeks old. They will leave the nest soon after
hatching, jumping from the nesting cavity to the ground or water below. The
young leave the nest soon after hatching. They jump from the nesting cavity,
often high up in a tree, to the ground or water below.
Like all ducks (I assume), wood ducks are able to get into the most
Photography by Vineeth Radhakrishnan
Interesting Tidbits About Wood Ducks
- Wood ducks are mostly vegetarian, feeding on aquatic plants, nuts, fruit, and seeds. They will also, however, eat insects, tadpoles, salamanders or snails.
- They are called “dabbling” ducks searching for food while they are swimming.
- An adult male duck is called a “drake.”
- The name for a group of ducks could be any of the following: a flight of ducks; flush of ducks; paddling of ducks; a raft of ducks; a flock of ducks; or a team of ducks.
- The wood duck also has several different nicknames, including Woodie, Carolina Duck, Squealer Duck, Summer Duck, and Carolina Duck. __
- Fisher, James & Roger Tory Peterson (1988), World of Birds, Crescent Books, New York.
- Wood Duck Society (Retrieved from website on 10/13/2018).
- Building Nice Wood (Retrieved from website on 10/13/2018).
- Cleaning and Maintaining Wood Duck Boxes (Retrieved from website on 10/09/2018).
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on October 15,
Thank you, Pamela. I just despise the way I feel about the Starlings now, but
the thought of them running a beautiful wood duck out of her nest box is just
a bit much. Thanks for taking the time to read it.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 15, 2018:
These ducks are beautiful, and it would be tragic for them to disappear. Too
bad the hunters don’t target Starlings. Building a nesting box if they live
near you is a great idea.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on October 14,
Thank you so much. I didn’t know about the Starlings trying to take over
Martin houses but if they are gone from your backyard now, you are much better
off. It kills me to think badly of any wildlife but Starlings and Cowbirds do
things that are hard for us to understand. You are so right…they are so
beautiful (the ducks, not the Starlings).
The Logician from then to now on on October 14, 2018:
I have always loved wood ducks and you have really done a great job here of
introducing this duck to readers!
I have never heard that starlings are such a threat. I used to have a problem
with starlings taking over a martin house I put up but after a couple years
they have disappeared from my back yard along with the grackles that used to
show up in spring. I wonder if it is because I see several Cooper’s Hawks have
carved out territory in my neck of the woods.
I was surprised 20 years ago in upstate NY to find dozens of young
domesticated wood ducks for sale at an annual small town fair. If they are
being raised and bought and sold like farm animals I guess they will be with
us for a long time to come!
They are breathtakingly beautiful.