One of Manitoba’s most photogenic water birds, with its bright, iridescent feathers, is the wood duck. For a time this colourful duck was in decline across North America, but with a little help from humans, it is making a definite comeback. Still, its numbers in Manitoba remain relatively small, and I’m always pleased when I catch sight of one of these beauties.
Traditionally, wood ducks nested in natural tree cavities such as abandoned woodpecker holes, but decline in habitat, overhunting and attacks by predators contributed to significant falling numbers. Fortunately the numbers have rebounded in recent years.
The wood duck will readily use nesting boxes, if the dimensions and location are suitable. You may have seen large nest boxes set out by conservationists in some of our provincial parks, as well as in our urban parks – for wood ducks seem to have adapted to living close to humans. In Winnipeg, for instance, it’s not unusual to see a mother wood duck herding her newly fledged brood towards a river or pond. A summer visit to one of these urban parks often provides an opportunity for close-up photos of a wood duck pair, and sometimes of the female with her little ones.
If you’re interested and have a suitable place for them to nest, you can help in the wood duck’s comeback by buying or constructing nest boxes, for which plans are available on the Internet. The boxes need to be large with an entrance 7.62×10.16 cm (3×4 inches). Although many older wood duck houses were constructed of man-made material, houses of natural wood are now considered a better option, because heat buildup is less of a problem in wood houses.
Near a woodland and a pond or river makes for a good location, though it’s not actually necessary, for the ducks sometimes nest up to a kilo-metre from water. However, it is now recommended that the nest boxes be placed on a pole, rather than on a tree, and that a metal cone predator guard be added below the nest. This will prevent pole-or tree-climbing predators, such as raccoons and squirrels, from getting into the nests.
Wood ducks breed in southern and central Manitoba in April or May, and lay about seven to 15 eggs. Incubation lasts for 28 to 32 days, and the young leave the nest box within about a day. Encouraged by the hen, they fling themselves from the box, and then she leads the brood directly to water. Occasionally a wood duck hen will lay eggs in another’s nest, and this duck may then wind up with an extremely large brood.
For those who are really interested in this colourful species, there’s a U.S. group called the Wood Duck Society, or if you’d like to build nest boxes, see the Internet sites below:
http://www.ducks.org/con servation/waterfowl-biology/ wood-duck-boxes
http://www.ducks.org/penn sylvania/pennsylvania-con tent/duck-box-maintenencehousing- plans
http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Wood-Duck-House. – Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba