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Wood Duck


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Wood Duck Photo

The Wood Duck is one of the most stunningly pretty of all waterfowl. Males are iridescent chestnut and green, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather; the elegant females have a distinctive profile and delicate white pattern around the eye. These birds live in wooded swamps, where they nest in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up around lake margins. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Wood Ducks have a unique shape among ducks—a boxy, crested head, a thin neck, and a long, broad tail. In flight, they hold their head up high, sometimes bobbing it. Overall, their silhouette shows a skinny neck, long body, thick tail, and short wings.

  • Color Pattern

    In good light, males have a glossy green head cut with white stripes, a chestnut breast and buffy sides. In low or harsh light, they'll look dark overall with paler sides. Females are gray-brown with white-speckled breast. In eclipse plumage (late summer), males lose their pale sides and bold stripes, but retain their bright eye and bill. Juveniles are very similar to females.

  • Behavior

    Unlike most waterfowl, Wood Ducks perch and nest in trees and are comfortable flying through woods. Their broad tail and short, broad wings help make them maneuverable. When swimming, the head jerks back and forth much as a walking pigeon's does. You often see Wood Ducks in small groups (fewer than 20), keeping apart from other waterfowl. Listen for the female's call when these wary birds flush.

  • Habitat

    Look for Wood Ducks in wooded swamps, marshes, streams, beaver ponds, and small lakes. They stick to wet areas with trees or extensive cattails. As a cavity nester, Wood Ducks take readily to nest boxes.

Range Map Help

Wood Duck Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Breeding male

    Wood Duck

    Breeding male
    • Gaudy plumage of males is unmistakeable
    • Smaller, stocky duck with "helmeted appearance"
    • Long tail
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado, June 2012
  • Breeding male and female

    Wood Duck

    Breeding male and female
    • Females lack the showy plumage of males, but are otherwise similar in size/shape
    • Female shows obvious white patch around eye
    • Small and compact with long tail
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado, June 2012
  • Adult female

    Wood Duck

    Adult female
    • Small, compact duck with "helmeted" appearance
    • Breeding females show yellow ring around eye
    • White patch completely encircles eye
    • Long tail
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Colorado, June 2012
  • Eclipse male

    Wood Duck

    Eclipse male
    • Plumage seen only in late summer
    • Eclipse males are dull brown overall but retain bright red bill with black tip
    • Stocky and compact with long tail
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New York, July 2011

Similar Species

Similar Species

The male Wood Duck's bright colors are distinctive with a good view. The Green-winged Teal sports similar green-and-chestnut colors, but it has a different shape, lacks the Wood Duck's bold white striping, and is more solid gray on the breast and sides. Likewise, the very common Mallard has a crestless silhouette, lacks bold white striping, and has much paler sides. The Mandarin Duck is a fairly common captive or domestic duck that you may encounter as an escape. Males are ornate, like Wood Ducks, but the head is white and orange instead of green. Female Wood Ducks are a plainer or smoother brown than most other female ducks, with much less mottling or streaking, and they have a bold white eyering and stripe behind the eye—this combined with the Wood Duck's distinctive shape sets them apart. In flight, Wood Ducks could be confused with Hooded Mergansers, which live in similar habitats. Hooded Mergansers have much faster wingbeats, a smaller body and even more direct flight.

Backyard Tips

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.



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