One of North America’s most colorful duck species, the wood duck is also known as the Carolina duck. But is its range limited to the Carolinas, or do wood ducks live throughout the United States?
Read on to find out where you can spot one of these distinctive, green-headed waterfowl.
Wood ducks live in close proximity to water and are found both along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and throughout the southeast of the country. Populations are particularly concentrated along the Atlantic Coast states.
A mixed range of habitats support wood ducks, including lakes, ponds, marshes, and woodlands alongside rivers and streams.
After spending winters in warmer southern climates, some wood ducks may return to cooler breeding grounds, as far north as southern Canada, to raise their young.
As the species name implies, woodland habitats and forested landscapes offer ideal habitats for wood ducks to nest. We’ll be taking a look at where the best places are to see wood ducks in their natural environment, so please keep reading if you’d like to learn more.
Wood Ducks can be primarily found in wetlands with nearby woodlands
The Pacific coast of the United States forms the western extreme of the distribution range of wood ducks. They spend winters as far south as the west coast of Mexico and live and breed further north, from the south of British Columbia through Washington, Oregon, and into California.
Wood ducks are winter visitors to northeast Mexico and the southeastern U.S., and are year-round residents in much of the eastern U.S., where their range extends from east Texas north to the Dakotas, and as far east as Maine, encompassing all of the eastern part of the country, as well as Cuba.
In the north, breeding occurs throughout southern Canada.
Wood Ducks are year-round residents in much of the eastern U.S
Wood ducks are present in every state to the east of the Rocky Mountains, from North and South Dakota, small pockets of Nebraska, and south into Texas.
In the far northeast – in Maine and northern Vermont – their presence is largely limited to the summer breeding season. Wood duck populations are most numerous in the southeast, along the Gulf Coast, and along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey southwards.
States along the Pacific coast also provide a suitable habitat for wood ducks all year round. Isolated parts of Wyoming and Montana are home to breeding populations that migrate elsewhere in winter months.
Wood ducks are temporary visitors to locations across southern Canada during the breeding season, leaving for milder climates ahead of winter months each year.
Breeding has been recorded in southern Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Small populations of wood ducks are year-round residents of western British Columbia.
Male Wood Duck in flight
Wood ducks thrive in wetland environments with nearby woodland coverage. Such landscapes provide suitable shelter for nesting and breeding and access to food sources.
Flooded scrublands, marshes, and freshwater ponds surrounded by trees and vegetation are ideal habitats for wood ducks to raise their young.
Outside of North America, there are no native populations of wood ducks, and the only individuals seen in the wild are birds that have escaped from private wildlife collections or their descendants.
Within their range in the U.S. and southern Canada, wood ducks are classified as a species of least concern. They are relatively widespread, and U.S. population estimates for wood ducks are around 34.2 million birds, meaning that they're not that rare to see.
Female Wood Duck perched on a log by a pond
The largest numbers of wood ducks are resident in the southeastern United States, with concentrations in forested wetlands and marshlands along the Atlantic Coast regions, from New Jersey southwards. Other regions with considerable wood duck populations can be found along the Gulf Coast.
Wood ducks are diurnal birds, and are typically active during daylight hours, foraging for food at first light and can be spotted throughout the day, unhurriedly floating, grazing, and foraging on lakes and ponds for food.
Around an hour before darkness falls, wood ducks will move towards their chosen overnight roosting spot, either on water or on logs or raised vegetation beside a pond or swamp.
Wood Ducks are typically active during daylight hours
Wood ducks spend much of their days foraging for food on the edges of swamps, ponds and wetlands, or resting on logs or low branches of waterside trees.
Most wood ducks are resident further south in the United States do not migrate in winter, and remain in their home territory throughout the year.
Some wood ducks that breed in the northern extremes of the species’ range, in southern Canada, may depart for warmer surroundings in the fall, returning to breed again once the harshest conditions have passed.
Most wood duck populations in the south stay within their range year-round
Some wood ducks remain in their home territories all year round, with mainly birds in the extreme north of their range moving to milder regions to avoid the harshest winter conditions.
Migratory wood ducks seek similar environments to the habitats in which they raise their young – forested wetlands, particularly those surrounded by oak and maple woodlands.
Wood Duck in flight during the first winter snow, Ottawa, Canada
Summer breeding grounds can be found as far north as the extreme south of Canada, with wetland habitats across the east of the United States offering suitable environments where wood ducks successfully raise their young.
Wood ducks are social birds, and may commonly live in pairs or small family groups. However, there isn’t much conclusive research about whether these are long-term or short-term groupings.
After hatching, young wood ducks remain with their mother until they reach around 8 to 10 weeks. As the female may on occasion raise as many as 29 ducklings, family groups may – for a short time at least – be fairly sizable.
A flock of Wood Ducks, resting on the branch of a tree
Wood ducks are unusual among waterfowl species in that they nest in tree cavities and have adapted webbed feet that allow them to grip onto bark and perch on branches.
While they are unable to excavate their own hollow in a tree to nest in, wood ducks will frequently make use of deserted holes drilled by woodpeckers, and where there is a shortage of natural sites, they frequently use specially designed nest boxes attached to trees.
Wood Duck perched in a tree
Most adult wood ducks roost and sleep at night on water, where they are safe from land predators.
During the breeding season, female wood ducks incubate eggs overnight and remain in their nest cavities.
Ducklings leave the nest cavity after around 24 hours, and in their early days, they sleep out of water, on a sheltered log or low branches of shrubbery, accompanied by the mother.
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