NC State Extension Publications

Habitat Requirements

Wood ducks depend upon forested wetland habitat for food and cover, although marshes are also used. Breeding range must have trees for nesting cavities and food near permanent freshwater lakes and streams. Brushy borders are important for nesting and brooding. Swampy areas with cypress and gum are premium for roosting. The best habitat contains mastproducing hardwoods that border streams and permanent fresh-water lakes. Many beaver ponds provide ideal wood duck habitat.

Food

The diet of the wood duck includes hard and soft mast, insects, aquatic invertebrates (mollusks, snails, etc.), aquatic plants and seeds. Mast is the fruit of trees and shrubs, such as acorns, nuts, & berries. Wood ducks feed on land considerable distances from open water.


Seasonal wood duck foods.
Spring Summer Fall Winter
Acorns X X X
Hickory nuts X
Waterlily seeds X X X
Duckweed X X
Mannagrass X
Ash X
Blackgum X X
Water elm X X
Coontail seed X X
Buttercup X
Bidens X X
Muskgrass X
Invertabrates X X
Smartweed X X

Cover

Nesting habitat requires areas of flooded shrubs, trees, or both, in approximately 1:1 ratio of plant cover to open water. Trees or shrubs overhanging water will suffice. Cover should remain available from February through May. Nesting cavities should be within 12 mile from water. Mature trees of 16 inches in diameter or more are the primary source of cavities, although nest boxes make a good substitute. Maintain at least one cavity for every 5 acres of woodlands. Adequate food must be available.

Nesting requires cavities or nest boxes. Wood ducks prefer to use cavities already made by woodpeckers and squirrels, although any cavity is acceptable. The entrance should be no larger than 4 inches and the cavity large enough to support an average of 11 young. Protecting previously used nests is very important. Once successful, a female will nest in the same cavity year after year.

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 forest 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

  • Control understory by mechanical methods
  • Protect areas of mast production
  • Plant mast producing trees, especially along streambanks and ponds

Intermediate treatments

  • Thin frequently (8 to 10 years) for crown development
  • Favor mast species in thinnings
  • Favor red oaks over white oaks by a ratio of 2:1
  • Do not chemically treat grape vines

Direct improvements

  • Retain all oaks overhanging water
  • Retain all identified cavity trees within 1/2 mile of water
  • Plant mast species in wetlands areas.
  • Leave small areas of unharvested cropland near wetlands and open water
  • Temporarily flood hardwood stands or farm fields during winter months to attract ducks for hunting and overwintering (consult appropriate authorities before flooding land)
  • Protect all secluded ponds, marshes, and 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 Bullfrogs Painted turtle
Red-bellied watersnake Kingfisher Red-headed woodpecker
Yellow-rumped warbler Swamp sparrow Screech owl
Prothonotary warbler

Authors

Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist (Wildlife)
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Wildlife Biologist

Publication date: Jan. 1, 2019
Revised: April 30, 2019

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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.