Wood ducks are one of North America’s most attractive ducks. These perching ducks from the Aix genus of waterbird family Anatidae are found across the ponds and marshes of the eastern US, the west coast, southern Canada, and Mexico.
They display strong sexual dimorphism, meaning the female looks different from the male, but what do Juvenile wood ducks look like?
Juvenile Wood ducks superficially resemble adult females. They’re gray-brown overall with dark brown eyes and a gray bill. After a couple of months, some duller iridescent blue wing plumage is present, and differences emerge between juvenile males and females, such as the male’s red eye and scarlet bill.
The plumage of Wood ducks varies throughout the year, as males molt into duller eclipse plumage in fall and winter. Outside of the spring and summer, males resemble females except for their red eyes and bill.
Keep on reading as we dive into all things about juvenile Wood Ducks.
Juvenile male Wood Duck in transition plumage
Generally speaking, Juvenile wood ducks look like adult female Wood Ducks for the first few months after molting into their basic juvenile plumage.
Then, in mid to late summer, they begin to molt into their adult plumage, and males and females differentiate from each other and look less alike. For the first few months of their lives, juvenile male and female Wood ducks are tricky to tell apart, despite adult males and females looking starkly different.
At birth, Wood ducks are pretty much your typical downy brown ducklings. They have a few dark brown and black spots. Males and female Wood ducklings are impossible to tell apart visually.
Close up of a Wood Duck Duckling
Between June and August, Wood ducks molt into their basic juvenile plumage. Plumage is mostly brown with a lighter breast and some faint greenish, blueish, and purplish upper wings. Colors are dull and muted at first and begin to turn brighter and bolder as summer progresses.
Males and females start to differentiate, as the male has two thin white projects on his face, whereas the female develops a white patch around the eye. The male’s eye begins to turn red after a couple of months.
The male’s plumage becomes considerably brighter, bolder, and more defined than the female's. As summer progresses, male and female Wood ducks begin to further distinguish themselves but remain pretty dull for the best part of 6 to 8 months. The male’s green sheen and crown become more obvious after around 4 months.
Juvenile Wood ducks almost entirely resemble adults by the next year’s breeding season. Over winter, the juvenile male will start to look considerably brighter and more defined than the female, which remains duller. In addition, the male’s red eyes and bold crown become increasingly conspicuous.
Juvenile Female Wood Duck
Juvenile Male Wood Duck (Prior to transition plumage)
Juvenile Wood ducks obtain their juvenile down after 70 days. They reach their adult body mass after around 7 to 9 weeks or so, and it takes young birds around 8 to 10 weeks to fly.
Compared to many other birds, this development process is slow. A fully grown Wood duck measures 19 inches (48cm) long with a wingspan of about 28 to 39 inches (71 to 99cm).
Like most ducks, young Wood ducks begin feeding themselves just days after emerging from the nest.
Yolk from the egg is crucial to sustaining the ducklings in the first hours and days after hatching. Their diet is likely similar to adult diets, consisting of seeds, grains, and small insects.
Dietary fat and protein are essential to the development of any young bird, so it’s possible that juvenile Wood ducks consume more insects and invertebrates than they do as adults.
Young Wood Duck swimming
Wood ducklings begin producing soft clicking vocalizations a few days before hatching. This peculiar behavior is uncommon among birds and is thought to help coordinate hatching.
Ducklings produce high-pitch screeches and peep sounds to alert mothers to danger. Juveniles begin producing adult vocalizations after around 3 months or so. Like most ducks, Wood ducks don’t have songs as such - their vocalizations are best-described as calls.
Baby Wood ducks molt into their juvenile plumage after around 6 to 8 weeks. Juvenile plumage develops throughout the summer. However, it’s not until around March of the next year that juveniles fully resemble adults.
Overall, juvenile Wood duck plumage lasts around one year. Wood ducks reach sexual maturity in one year, hence why they molt into their breeding plumage after around a year. This ensures they’re ready to go for their first breeding season.
Male Juvenile Wood Duck in flight
Young Wood ducks remain under the close attention of their mother for 50 to 60 days. Juvenile birds begin dispersing away from their natal territory shortly after gaining independence and sometimes form small juvenile flocks.
Juvenile female and male Wood Ducks in transition plumage
Young Wood ducks look superficially similar to the early juveniles of other North American duck species, such as Mallards, wigeons, teals, and mergansers.
Many male ducks molt into what’s known as ‘eclipse plumage,’ which sees them molt their bright breeding plumage into duller gray-brown plumage that resembles the female. This makes identifying winter ducks a greater challenge than identifying ducks in the breeding season.
A flock of juvenile Wood Ducks on the water
Young Wood ducks are small and vulnerable after hatching. They hop from their nest to the water below and can swim innately, even though they can’t fly for another few weeks.
Like most ducklings, they follow their mother intently, who leads them to foraging grounds, nighttime roosts, etc. Unfortunately, young Wood ducks are extremely vulnerable for the first week or two, and over half perish to bad weather, malnutrition, disease, and predation.
Juvenile Wood ducks are quite social and sometimes gather in small juvenile flocks. They roam the waterways in and around their natal territories until they’re ready to breed the following spring.
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