One of America’s most beautiful ducks, Aix sponsa favor wooded shallow lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers and creeks. Equipped with sharp claws for perching in trees, they nest in large tree cavities near water. They will also utilize nest boxes. Read more here.
Although the wood duck population was abundant in eastern North America in Audubon’s time (1785-1851), it experienced a serious decline in the late 19th century. Since then the population has recovered due primarily to two activities: legal protection and wildlife management.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 placed a federal ban on hunting migrating birds from 1918 to 1941. The ban helped the population recover.
Beyond the federal ban, nest boxes for the wood ducks are another reason for the population’s recovery. Local communities have been successful in encouraging wood ducks to build nests in nest boxes. I was witness to this at Lindo Lake in Lakeview, California (San Diego County).
The wood duck was once a rarity in San Diego County. While visiting a birder friend there, we went to Lindo Lake a few years ago. We had been out of the car only one minute when we spotted a wood duck, which was very surprising.
They are not usually easy to find, especially in urban settings. Within five minutes we had seen a dozen of them! Then our friend revealed his surprise: this park was part of a wood duck nesting box program. It was remarkable to see several dozen pairs.
We are lucky the wood ducks survived extirpation. And so fortunate now to have a strong community of wildlife conservationists whose only mission is to admire this stunning bird, and truly protect it.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander
Author’s Note: Wood ducks are hunted today, and in fact are the second most popular duck to be hunted, second to the mallard. To discuss waterfowl hunting here is inappropriate, due to the depth and ire of the topic. I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention that waterfowl conservation and waterfowl hunting are often deceptively advocated by the same powerfully-lobbied international organizations, for e.g. Ducks Unlimited. Click here to read which organizations oppose hunting wildlife and which ones promote it.