By Larry Czajkoski
For exquisite markings, no American waterfowl surpasses the male Wood Duck. In breeding plumage (winter and spring,) it has a green crown and black face offset by white slashes reaching up from its white throat. The bill looks painted, a bright red-orange with black and white touches. Breast and undertail are chestnut, while the sides are adorned with vertical white and blackish slashes followed by a panel of butterscotch yellow. The male’s back is metallic green. These colors fade during the summer, as the birds molt into eclipse, or nonbreeding, plumage, but the bright bill and eye and face pattern remain. Both males and females have backward facing crests that give them a helmeted look. To identify the female, look for a grayish brown duck generally flecked with whitish spots on their side and her distinctive white, tear-shaped eye rings.
This bird can be found throughout all of North Carolina during all seasons.
The perfect setting for wood ducks combines tranquil fresh water with plenty of trees – bottomland swamps, riverside forests, and tree lined ponds and lakes (fortunate for us, perfectly situated for our community.) While kayaking on Bald Mountain Lake, I photographed this male on a lake dock as he was roosting with his female companion. Wood ducks are cavity nesters, setting up house in holes high in mature or dead trees. They also nest down low in nest boxes. For those that live in an area with a lake or pond on their property, look into placing a nesting box at the waters edge (or ideally just in the water) on a post fitted with a collar-like, predator baffle. Just Google “wood duck nesting boxes” for a list of sites for plans or places to purchase the boxes. If you do, your invitation to the Wood Ducks will be much appreciated and well rewarded with views of a striking colorful couple.