The star of last week’s article was the “hoodie” or hooded merganser. The star of this week’s show is the wood duck. Like, the hooded merganser it is a perching bird that nests in cavities either in a tree or nesting box. Seven “woodies” were on stage a few days when I was birding at a local bird sanctuary. It seems they are in sync with the same species that have arrived on the Long Beach Peninsula, where I am told by my friend, Dianne, that they, along with the hooded mergansers are visiting the nest boxes daily.
Back at the sanctuary, four males were all vying for the attention of three females. The female woodies were hunkered down on the largest and thickest branches of tree. The top had broken off, probably in a windstorm. There was a visible cavity at the break and one female appeared to be working on it. An attentive male hovered close by but didn’t offer to help her with what looked like housekeeping. The rest of the male Woodies flitted frantically around the woodlot. Their broad wings and short wide tails make it possible for them to flit easily among the trees. Who knows exactly what they were up to?
Cavity nesting wood ducks rely on woodpecker holes or natural cavities in trees but have benefited tremendously from nesting boxes. The latter are now widespread. The wood duck was nearly wiped out by the early 1900s due to the loss of habitat and indiscriminate hunting. Now, however, they are a success story. Laws for hunting were enacted to protect them. Thus, the population has increased, and the wood duck is no longer in danger of extinction.
Upon returning to the bird sanctuary the next day, the wood ducks had settled down from the frenzied flying of the day before. There was a small group of four and another of three swimming in the clear water always keeping their distance from the mallards and goldeneye that were also swimming in the pond. This lone wolf behavior is typical of wood ducks.
Like the hooded merganser the wood duck wears showy garb. It sports a combination of iridescent colors. The male with its iridescent greenish purple, crested head, chestnut chest, multicolored bill, and pale yellow flanks could certainly be dubbed the most beautiful North American waterfowl. The female is also beautiful in her own right. She is grayish with white flecks overall and has a dark blue patch edged with white in her wings. She also has a distinctive eye ring that is shaped like a teardrop. It tapers back toward the back of her slightly crested gray head. These are truly gorgeous birds.
The wood duck is an uncommon permanent resident both on the Long Beach Peninsula and in Pacific County. Look for them in any of our wetlands such as the wooded, swampy areas and marshes on the peninsula.
It is one our truly magnificent looking waterfowl. If you look for wood ducks now, they may put on a show for you, flying through the trees with ease looking for that perfect nesting cavity or just simply going in and out of a nesting box designed especially for them. Happy birding!