Wood Duck

Wood ducks can be found throughout the Delaware Bayshore region at various times of year.
Wood ducks can be found throughout the Delaware Bayshore region at various times of year.

The wood duck, or Carolina duck, is an elusive, medium-sized duck known for its strikingly handsome plumage, especially the drakes. In New Jersey, wood ducks are migratory, though populations are known to stay year-round in the southern reaches of its range.

Wood ducks are present along the South Jersey Bayshore region from early spring through about mid-autumn, though in warmer years, when inland ponds and streams are free of ice, they may stay through the middle of November.


Wood ducks are perching ducks; they nest in the hollows of trees or in boxes specially placed for their use. Nests are sited near fresh water and forage, which consists of berries, acorns, aquatic plants and even insects. Wood ducks have sharp talons, unusual for a duck, which allows them to climb trees and to perch in branches.  Females are capable of hatching two broods of ducklings every year, which makes them unique among North American ducks.

When the ducklings are ready to seek forage on their own, they will climb out of the nest and drop to the ground, or into the water; after leaving the nest they receive very little from their mothers by way of assistance.


Wood ducks and their nests are usually found in wooded swamps, flooded timber, shallow fresh-water ponds and the verges of marshes and meadows.


Wood ducks are a very popular game-bird, and a favorite of photographers and birders as well as hunters. Wood ducks comprise about 10 percent of the annual U.S. duck harvest. They are prized for their delicate, succulent meat and also for their beautiful plumage.


Wood ducks also present an exhilarating experience for hunters; they usually arrive in feeding areas just as the sun rises, flying low and swiftly in flocks ranging from a single pair to more than a dozen. Wood ducks are known to congregate in large numbers in prime feeding areas during the fall season. Shoots are often fast and furious, and often end as quickly as they begin.


In the South Jersey Bayshore region, wood ducks can be found during the first session of the duck hunting season, which opens in mid to late October, and are usually gone by early November.


Numbers of wood ducks vary significantly year to year, depending on weather and climate conditions, and the availability of standing ground water. In drier years, wood ducks may move out of the region earlier, or be present in much smaller numbers.


The wood duck is also an American conservation success story, after being driven nearly to extinction due to unregulated hunting and widespread habitat loss in the early twentieth century. In 1913 the Weeks-McLean Act placed custody of the all American waterfowl under the federal government. In 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act established a national moratorium on their harvest until 1941. In the century since these acts were established, the wood duck has surged in numbers, and can be found the length and breadth of its ancestral range.

A wood duck hen.
A wood duck hen.