Depending on whom you ask, you might be told that as long as you have woods and water, you’ll have wood ducks. While this may be true, it is important to follow some guidelines to maximize your habitat’s carrying capacity for the wood duck.
Nest box programs of some type have been utilized for nearly a century to help restore original wood duck numbers that were threatened by habitat depletion and market hunting. Because of these programs, wood ducks now use a wide range of wetland habitats for breeding. Since wood ducks are a forest-inhabiting species, wooded sites should be selected for management programs when available.
Areas selected for breeding wood ducks should include both plant and animal food resources. Plant foods are necessary for fat deposition prior to egg laying and as an energy source for the incubating females and breeding males. Invertebrates are the primary source of protein and minerals for eggs. Wood ducks typically utilize a 6-month period for laying eggs, beginning as early as February and as late as July.
Those wishing to manage for wood ducks should consider the following points in making general assessments of food resources and quality of foraging habitats. Wood ducks utilize a wide variety of foods and therefore probably do not select specific plant or invertebrate prey species. Because of this, diversity and abundance of plant and invertebrate foods in wetlands is critical. Vegetative structures such as leaves and stems should not be considered in assessing plant food availability. Instead, seeds of plants are optimal for the wood duck, such as acorns. Because wood ducks are predominantly surface feeders, foraging areas should be shallow, contain large amounts of shallow water edges, or have substrates for invertebrates near the surface. Aquatic plants can provide both seeds and substrates. Man made impoundments should maximize the amount of shallow water edge by increasing the irregularity of wetland margins or by constructing islands.
While size of the managed area does matter, if adequate food is available, larger numbers of birds can use the area. Nesting cavities in the form of dead trees or nesting units can help to boost numbers as well. One last thing to remember is the location of managed areas. Potential disturbances should be minimized. Breeding success and attainment of the wood duck’s high reproductive potential requires not only food resources but also disturbance free habitats. Wood ducks are particularly sensitive to human disturbance. To minimize this threat, managed sites should either be developed in areas of low human activity or closed to use during the breeding season.