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The wood duck – flamboyance, elegance and hard work

Photo of a male wood duck


What a flamboyant bird! The male “woodie” comes with over 6 different colours – red, metallic purplish-green, white stripes, patches of yellow, dark red, black and blue. The hen is less conspicuous. She has some beautiful brown and white flecked feathers with blue under her wings and a distinctive teardrop-shaped white eye patch and a whitish throat.


Photo of a female wood duck

The female wood duck is less colourful, but has nice markings around her eyes

Though the drake is one of the most conspicuous birds around, he doesn’t sport his decorative markings all the time. His colours are important for attracting a hen during the breeding season, in autumn until early summer. After he’s found a mate, he grows grey feathers with blue markings on the wings and keeps white markings on the face and neck. You can still recognize males by the red eyes and bill, but they’re definitely toned down and a lot more neutral looking at this stage.

Yep, male woodies are gorgeous, most of the time, and it’s true that they get a lot of the glory, but looking good really is about the only thing these guys do.


Behind every great man, there’s a woman

Photo of a female wood duck

The female wood duck is less colourful than the male but is still striking compared to other duck hens

The hen, with her deep, dark eyes and elegant stoic beauty, is the real reason there are such beautiful woodies, today. She’s the one who’s responsible for finding and making the nest and for laying, guarding and incubating the eggs. She’s also the one who tends to the young, keeping them at her side, day and night, until they’re able to fly. The drake sticks around until the hen begins incubating the eggs. But once he’s sure his copulation skills are no longer needed, he flies the coop for some R and R!

What’s in a name?

Photo of a male wood duck

The male wood duck looking sharp

The wood duck is at home in the woods. Unlike most other ducks, woodies have sharp claws for perching in trees. While flying, woodies easily thread their way through the interlacing branches of the forest. They are also swift and agile swimmers and can dive underwater if necessary. On the ground the wood duck runs nimbly and with more grace than the average duck.  On larger tree branches, they move with the same apparent ease.

Where are all the woodies?

Woodies can be found in ponds, lakes, marshes and along rivers and streams, where they nest in holes in trees. They prefer areas that have a mix of water and deciduous trees.

Photo of a wood duck eating upside down

Wood ducks often tip forward into the water to get food

At the end of summer, when all the hard work is done, northern woodies migrate to more southern latitudes, to such places as Cuba, the Bahamas and parts of Mexico. During mild winters, some woodies stay near their breeding grounds. Wood ducks who live in southern north america tend to be year-round residents.


Woodies are dabbling ducks

Wood Ducks eat aquatic plants, seeds, fruits and insects. They’re dabblers, which means they skim food from the water’s surface or feed in the shallows by tipping forward to submerge their heads and necks.


Wood ducks pair up in late winter and begin breeding in early spring. The males attract females with their call, dancing abilities and colourful feathers. After the pair breed, the hen leads the drake to a nesting place, finds a nice hole in a tree and prepares a nest in it – nests can be up to 65 feet above the ground. The hens exhibit site “fidelity,” which means they return to the same breeding ground, year after year, with the selected drake following, of course.

Females lay one egg a day until the clutch is complete. A complete clutch usually contains 8 to 10 semi-glossy, creamy white eggs.

Wood ducks prefer trees that are close to water. If they cannot find an appropriate tree cavity, wood ducks will readily use nest boxes built by people. Learn how to make a wood duck box and the best location for setting them up: Duck Box Plans.

Photo of a female wood duck with wings open

Female wood duck showing off her sensual lines

The wood duck song

Drakes call hens with a thin, rising and falling whistle. The hens call with a different, louder “oo-eek oo-eek” when disturbed and taking flight. You can listen to their various calls and sounds, here.

I took these shots over a few days at a small swamp in Gatineau Park. I shot mostly at 200 ISO, 200 mm,

Photo of a male wood duck

The male woodie is exquisitely colored.

Contact me at rob@robwiebe.com

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About Rob Wiebe

Photo enthusiast, music lover

One Response to “The wood duck – flamboyance, elegance and hard work”

  1. one female canuck April 13, 2012 10:55 AM #

    First, are words of the day: deciduous and clutch (which I thought was only my preferred type of handbag).

    Second, this entire post reads like a Dangerous Liaisons script on the nature of male / female situations.

    Third, FYI: The female duckie is of my Tribe. Almond shaped eyes confirm this.

    Fourth, I am your Number One Fan. Prey, I am not your only one. (Please send a signed life-sized head-shot. Make it out to “Maw-haw.”)

Leave a Reply to one female canuck