Bird Database

Wood Duck

(Aix sponsa)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Wetland loss, Hunting

Conservation Actions

Manage waterfowl harvest, Wetland protection

Wood Duck

(Aix sponsa)

The loud rising “woo-eek” of a startled female Wood Duck is often the first sign that this species is in the vicinity and is usually followed by a glimpse of one or more small ducks flying away at top speed. This skittishness is likely a benefit when facing most predators, but it probably makes Wood Ducks more vulnerable to humans with firearms. Wood Ducks are indeed a popular game bird, perhaps second to the Mallard, and comprise 10% of the ducks harvested in the United States each year.

Hunting can be an effective management tool, but unregulated it can be highly detrimental to wildlife populations, and the Wood Duck is a good example of this. Overhunting, combined with habitat loss, had biologists in the late 1800s wondering if the species was headed toward extinction. This clearly didn’t happen, and through a combination of habitat protection and the cessation of hunting (1918-1941) Wood Duck populations rebounded – and continue to increase today. Also instrumental in their recovery was reforestation and an increasing beaver population, which helped create the wetlands Wood Ducks need for nesting.

Wood Ducks are one of a handful of waterfowl that nest in tree cavities, usually those formed where a branch has fallen off and allowed the adjacent trunk to rot on the inside. They will occasionally use old Pileated Woodpecker holes and of course take readily to nest boxes. Provision of the latter was another important tool in the species’ recovery over the twentieth century. The female lays up to a dozen eggs, and nests with higher numbers usually result from other females exhibiting a form of brood parasitism known as “egg dumping.” If the number of extra eggs is not too large, and they’re all on the same schedule, egg dumping does not negatively impact hatching success or productivity. After the young have hatched, the female will go to the ground below the nest tree and call softly to the chicks, who will scramble to the nest hole and jump out into the unknown. Being lightweight and soft they rarely suffer from the subsequent fall and have been known to survive drops of almost 300 feet. They’re then gathered by the hen and taken to the water where they’ll spend the rest of the spring and summer feeding until they can fly.

The next time you marvel and the gorgeous color pattern of a male Wood Duck or are startled by the distress calls of a fleeing female, think about how that bird hatched in a tree hole somewhere and started its life by free-falling potentially dozens of feet and bouncing off the ground.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Wood Duck
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count