January 2019 Bird of the Month

Wood Ducks, Florida’s Beauties © Mark Smith  04  
One of our few, resident, year-round ducks

Our most spectacularly beautiful resident duck! The brilliant, iridescent crest, body color and markings are developed by the male during the breeding season (in fall) just to attract the female!  He also attracts hunters and is more visible to predators, so his colors are not kept year-round. After breeding, the Wood Duck male molts to become mostly dark brown like the female, but retains his characteristic white throat markings, red eye and bill.  

Males engage in courtship display. He turns his head to show off his beautiful rear crest to the female and tilts his head to display his white patterned neck. Along with whistling notes, he performs ritualized general shaking, with erect crest and breast and rapid head raising and lowering of bill to chest to expose his white belly. If these actions incite her, she lowers her head with quick bill-pointing movements at him, indicating her preference for him as a mate.

After mating successfully, as the eggs develop, females ingest especially high protein- and calcium-rich aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, adding to the usual diet of seeds, fruits, and aquatic plants. The female chooses a nest cavity (most often abandoned by woodpeckers).  Prior to beginning one per day egg laying, she plucks her downy breast feathers to line the nest. Her bare breast serves as an incubation patch to warm her dozen eggs. During about a month incubation, she only leaves the nest briefly to feed twice a day.

When the eggs begin to pip (the young crack the shell with their egg tooth, soon lost after hatching), the mother begins calling to them. The clutch hatches in 20 hours. For another day, her call becomes louder.  She then leaves the nest, calling softly from the ground for them to follow.  One at a time, they leap many feet from the nest’s edge down to the ground! Uninjured, they walk or swim after the mother, able to feed on their own and rush to nearby cover or dive on signal from mother if a predator is near.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society