Wood Ducks — sheer beauty!

Some of you have already seen a large chunk of my Wood Ducks collection on the About this blog page that you’ve accessed from the banner at the top of the website! But, having been obsessed with these gorgeous waterfowl for nearly three decades, and photographing them for several years, now, I have more I’d like to share.

So, fotos first; discussion delivered at de end

From Belmont Pond 2017: if images show a Hand icon cursor icon, click to enlarge in a new tab….

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
Wilbur Woodie of Belmont Pond…
Wood Duck female (Aix sponsa)
and Wilma Woodie….

Caught them canoodling (WODU- style) recently in the smaller Belmont Pond. One of these photos was very well received on Flickr (Affectionate Wood Ducks).

Click on any photo in the cluster to enlarge all of ’em. Once enlarged, you can scroll down in a photo and click View Full Size to enlarge that image in a new tab…. Close the cluster by clicking the small x in top right corner of enlarged photos.

Single shots of Wilbur, 2017:

And from years past, other WODUs I have known:

From Burnaby Lake, 2016:

From Belmont Pond, 2016, a photo with a twist…taken on a very calm day!

Wood Duck drake - 2a
Giggle if you get this!

WODU-lings, Burnaby Lake, 2016:

“Mom’s gonna be REAL mad if you get us lost, Winki!

There are more images, but that’s enough for now. Here’s a little background on these wonderful Wood Ducks from a couple of Internet sources.

Wood Duck migration range Audubon.png

From Audubon.com: (quotations combined)

Beautiful and unique, this duck of woodland ponds and river swamps has no close relatives, except for the Mandarin Duck of eastern Asia. Abundant in eastern North America in Audubon’s time, the Wood Duck population declined seriously during the late 19th century because of hunting and loss of nesting sites [due to cutting of large trees, combined with hunting pressure]. Its recovery to healthy numbers was an early triumph of wildlife management. Legal protection and provision of nest boxes helped recovery; many thousands of nest boxes now occupied by Wood Ducks in U.S. and southern Canada. In recent years, apparently has been expanding range in north and west.”

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology (LoO):

“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. 

Cool Facts

  • Natural cavities for nesting are scarce, and the Wood Duck readily uses nest boxes provided for it. If nest boxes are placed too close together, many females lay eggs in the nests of other females.
  • The Wood Duck nests in trees near water, sometimes directly over water, but other times over a mile away. After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. The ducklings may jump from heights of over 50 feet without injury.
  • Wood Ducks pair up in January, and most birds arriving at the breeding grounds in the spring are already paired. The Wood Duck is the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one year. [In my observations, however, the male often departs after the brood reaches water, leaving all rearing chores to his mate!]
  • The oldest recorded Wood Duck was a male and at least 22 years, 6 months old. He had been banded in Oregon and was found in California.

Nesting Facts

  • Clutch Size: 6–16 eggs
  • Number of Broods: 1-2
  • Egg Length: 4.6–6.1 cm (1.8–2.4 in) Egg Width: 3.5–4.2 cm (1.4–1.7 in)
  • Egg Description: Glossy creamy white to tan. Incubation Period: 28–37 days
  • Nestling Period: 56–70 days
  • Condition at Hatching: Chicks hatch alert and with a full coat of down. A day after hatching they leave the nest by jumping out of the entrance.

Nest Description

  • Nest cavities can have openings as small as 4 inches across, and these may be preferred because they are harder for predators to enter. Wood Ducks sometimes use much larger openings, up to a couple of feet across. Cavity depths are variable; they average about 2 feet deep but in rotten trees can be 15 feet deep (the young use their clawed feet to climb out). Nest boxes of many designs have proved very popular and successful with Wood Ducks*, though plastic nest boxes can overheat in strong sun. The female lines the nest with down feathers she takes from her breast.
  • *We are waiting to see if the 3 WODU nest boxes installed in Belmont Pond (winter of 2016-7) will be accepted by any of the species that visit the pond this spring.

Nest Placement

  • Breeding pairs search for nest cavities during early morning. The male stands outside as the female enters and examines the site. They typically choose a tree more than 1 foot and often 2 feet in diameter, with a cavity anywhere from 2–60 feet high (higher sites seem to be preferred). These cavities are typically places where a branch has broken off and the tree’s heartwood has subsequently rotted. Woodpecker cavities are used less frequently. Wood Ducks cannot make their own cavities. The nest tree is normally situated near to or over water, though Wood Ducks will use cavities up to 1.2 miles from water.”

Finally, for those who made it this far, when Nana and I purchased a signed print of Robert Bateman’s wonderful “On the pond — Wood Ducks” (below), I had the chance to ask the artist whether he preferred the Wood Ducks or the Mandarin Ducks that he had done in Asia. I explained that I had seen both in the wild, the latter in Japan in my days in Sapporo. He was eager to discuss for a moment as he was about to head off to Hokkaido and wanted to know if I could tell him anything about the marsh he was headed to. (I could and did, but that’s not the story.)

He answered my question without hesitation, partly by avoiding it. He said that “Wood Ducks” was far more memorable because it had become his bête noire — a work he had struggled with off and on for 11 years before he finally declared it was as good as it was ever going to get. The light* was the main issue that he felt he couldn’t quite resolve.

On his affection for Wood Ducks, Bateman has said,

“My admiration does not stop at their appearance. I love the kind of place where they live. I have a soft spot in my heart for swamps with the lushness, the still water, the reflections, the complex light and the abundance of wildlife. Some of my happiest hours have been spent in and around swamps, watching and listening. Perhaps if I am very lucky I will hear a prothonotary warbler. But It is always a thrill to hear the shrill, questioning call of a wood duck as a pair (virtually always a pair) takes off and swiftly, almost miraculously, dashes between the trees and disappears. The glimpse is worth it.”

Now that I’m committed to photography, I believe I know what he means….

The Bateman print hangs in our dining room where we can enjoy it every day!

*In his memoir, Life Sketches (Simon & Shuster Canada, 2015) Bateman discusses light on p.219:

“Light, I tell students, is critical. I love backlit scenes, or scenes lit from the side. I like diffuse light, the kind offered on a cloudy day. I love mist and fog and ambience. But when you paint a scene where there is any kind of light, the key question is this: Where is the light coming from? Every shadow in that painting must be true to the source of light. I tell students: Be a slave, not to the creature you’re depicting, or the feathers on that bird’s body, or the landscape your describing, but to the light source and the form that it reveals.”

Wise words: a challenge I can spend the rest of my days working on….


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