NC State Extension Publications

Habitat Requirements

Wood ducks depend upon wetlands, including streamside forest, forested wetlands, and freshwater marshes, for food and cover. Wood ducks nest in cavities, including those in live and dead trees or in nest boxes placed around margins of wetlands. Habitat must include nesting cavities and the appropriate food as described below. Additionally, wetlands with emergent vegetation for overhead protection from predators and slow moving or still water are important for wood duck broods. Flooded forest with cypress and gum are premium for roosting. Also, many beaver ponds provide high quality wood duck habitat.

Food

The diet of the wood duck includes hard and soft mast, insects, other aquatic invertebrates (mollusks, snails), and aquatic plants and seeds. Mast is the fruit of trees and shrubs, including acorns, nuts, and berries. Wood ducks feed in and around wetlands, as well as in uplands, sometimes considerable distances from open water.


Seasonal wood duck foods.

Spring

Summer

Fall

Winter

Acorns

X

X

X

Hickory nuts

X

American beech nuts

X

X

Blackgum fruits

X

X

Waterlily (Nymphaea) seeds

X

X

X

Blackberry fruits

X

Smartweed seeds

X

X

Maple seedsAsh seedsElm seeds

X

X

X

Duckweed

X

X

X

X

Pondweed

X

X

X

Invertebrates

X

X

X

X

Photo of Female wood duck on log

Female wood duck

Jim Hudgins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  CC BY - 4.0

Photo of male wood duck on water ( with harlequin colors)

Male wood duck.

Gay Kramer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  CC BY - 4.0

Photo of alert male wood ducks in swamp setting

Pair of male wood ducks at alert.

George Gentry, U.S. Fish and Willdife Service  CC BY - 4.0

Cover

Nesting cover requires cavities or nest boxes, located between 6 and 30 feet above ground. Nesting cavities should be within 12 mile from water, although wood ducks have been known to nest up to 1 mile away from water. Mature trees of at least 16 inches in diameter are the primary source of cavities. When cavity trees are not available, wood ducks willingly nest in nest boxes. Maintain at least one cavity or box for every 5 acres of woodlands.

Wood ducks do not excavate their own cavity and instead use abandoned woodpecker cavities or other natural cavities. The entrance should be no larger than 4 inches and the cavity should be large enough to support an average of 11 young. Once successful, a female will nest in the same cavity year after year.

Once they hatch, ducklings leave the nest cavity immediately and seek out protective brood cover that harbors invertebrate foods. Brood cover is characterized by flooded emergent vegetation, including some shrubs and trees, in approximately 1:1 ratio of plant cover to open water.

Photo of wood duck box placed at edge of pond

Wood duck box placed at edge of pond.

Liessa Bowen  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Figure 1. Wood duck nest box construction.

Figure 1. Wood duck nest box construction.

Figure 2. Predator guard or nest box.

Figure 2. Predator guard or nest box.

Home Range

Due to the migratory and mobile nature of the wood duck, home range is difficult to define. The average feeding radius is 25 to 30 miles every day. Annual migrations reach hundreds of miles.

Because of the mobility and migratory habits of waterfowl, home range is not a consideration in habitat management except in terms of the brood-rearing and nesting requirements discussed above, and feeding radius.

Wood Duck Management

Improving Wood Duck Habitat

Mature hardwood

  • Retain hardwood or mixed pine / hardwood types
  • Keep 13 of tract in 50 year or older trees
  • In pine types, create or retain hardwood patches (5 acres or more)
  • Maintain a distribution of age classes, especially along water edges

Mast production

  • Protect areas of mast production
  • Release the crowns of mast trees so they will expand and increase mast production

Intermediate treatments

  • Thin to promote development of tree crowns
  • Favor leaving/releasing mast species during thinning operations
  • Favor a mix of red oaks and white oaks

Direct improvements

  • Retain all oaks adjacent to or overhanging wetlands
  • Retain identified cavity trees within 12 mile of water
  • Leave small areas of unharvested cropland near wetlands
  • Temporarily flood hardwood stands or farm fields during winter months to attract ducks for hunting and overwintering (consult appropriate authorities before flooding land)
  • When not threatening property damage, protect beaver ponds
  • Erect nest boxes where cavity trees are lacking

Many game and nongame species with habitat requirements similar to wood ducks benefit from wood duck management. Management plans should emphasize the community of species that share wood duck habitat


Species that benefit from wood duck management.
Mallard Black duck Pileated woodpecker
Hooded merganser Belted kingfisher Screech owl
Red-headed woodpecker Prothonotary warbler Yellow-rumped warbler
Swamp sparrow Southern leopard frog Red-bellied watersnake
Painted turtle Muskrat Beaver


Authors

Wildlife Biologist
Professor (Wildlife)
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Extension Professor
Forestry & Environmental Resources

Publication date: May 1, 2019
Revised: May 30, 2019

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.