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Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks Rebound Through Conservation

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It might be just another dead, hollow tree near the water’s edge, but it’s prime wood duck real estate. Leaning to one side, extending out over the water of the marsh, this tree not only houses a brood of wood ducks (Aix sponsa), but it will also serve as a launching point for these ducklings. Once old enough to leave the nest, the newly hatched wood ducks heed the hen’s call and high dive from the opening of the nest before plunging – safely – into the water below. In the past, trees like have been in short supply – and sometimes still are. But today, whether they nest in hollow trees or in man-made wood duck boxes, there’s more and more wood ducks filling the skies and the water.


A century ago, change and expansion continued to sweep much of North America, and the wood duck suffered as a result. Prior to wide-spread logging and farming operations throughout the nesting grounds of the wood duck, these strikingly beautiful birds had plenty of old trees in which to make nests. With their down-lined houses high enough off the ground to escape predation and rising water, wood ducks were plentiful and the object of affection for sportsmen, artists and wildlife watchers alike. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the desire to clear-cut homesteads to make room for growing crops and selling timber led to a dirth in old trees for wood ducks to nest in. As a result, their numbers dropped dramatically.


Today, populations of wood ducks throughout North America are stable and on the increase. One of the main reasons for the successful rebound of the populations is the success of sportsmen and women in building and using wood duck boxes. These boxes, hung high in trees, light poles, barns and other places, give these ducks a place to hatch their young. In many states, agencies are using funds collected from sportsmen dollars to expand these programs. Other conservation groups – most founded and run by sportsmen and women – also engage in hanging boxes. The impact has been substantial: more and more wood ducks are seen on the water, roaming the ground under big canopies of oak trees, eating acorns, which are a main staple in their diet.


In the eyes of many, there are few North American game birds more beautiful than the wood duck. It has graced duck stamps many times, is featured in highly coveted outdoor art while their feathers are highly sought after by fly fisherman and outdoor enthusiasts. Also known for its wonder table fare, the male wood duck is easily identifiable with his iridescent green and purple head, white line extending from the bill and to his crest and red eyes. And thanks to sportsmen and women everywhere, the wood duck has once again achieve population levels that allow current generations to marvel at its beauty.


Every year, on the 4th Saturday of September, millions of Americans will celebrate the success of the wood turkey and many other species as part of National Hunting and Fishing Day activities that will be going on nationwide. National Hunting and Fishing Day began after a presidential proclamation in 1972 that sets aside the fourth Saturday of each September for the event. Since then, national, regional, state and local organizations have staged thousands of open house hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing millions of Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.


The careful wood duck conservation efforts of the past have given millions of people the thrill of hearing the duck call to its young across the distance, to view it in its natural habitat and to restore its population to huntable populations. Conservation groups, sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers alike are all stakeholders in the future of the wood duck, to ensure that the wood duck nest in our trees (or boxes) and swims in our marshes and ponds long enough for future generations to see.


National Hunting and Fishing Day, formalized by Congress in 1971, was created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to celebrate the conservation successes of hunters and anglers. National Hunting and Fishing Day is observed on the fourth Saturday of every September.