Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the wood duck.

During breeding season, the male is one of the most spectacular ducks, with its metallic purple-green head boldly marked with white stripes, red eye and red bill with a yellow patch at the base. During late summer, when no longer trying to attract females, the male grows gray feathers, but still has the red eye and bill.

The female is grayish brown with a white tear-drop eye ring. Both males and females have a uniquely shaped head and crest that they hold upright with a thinnish neck. This helps to distinguish them from other ducks at a distance.

These rather shy ducks are mostly found in shallow ponds, swamps or lakes with trees or vegetation near the edge. They are one of the few species of ducks that have claws on their feet and can perch in trees. They nest in tree cavities made by rot or other birds. These cavities are usually between 2 and 60 feet above the ground. They prefer tall trees overhanging the water.

The ducklings are born with feathers and leave the nest when they are only a day old. Their mother calls to them from the water and the ducklings make a breath-taking leap of faith out of the nest and into the water. One batch of ducklings was observed leaping from a 300-foot-high nest. (There are several videos of leaping ducklings on YouTube.) The ducklings stay with the mother in the water until they are ready to fly. They dabble for their food, mostly plants and some small invertebrates.

With the loss of wetlands and competition from other species, suitable tree cavities are becoming rarer. Fortunately, many people make nesting boxes for these birds. There are several good online sites with instructions for making and installing them.

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