Every year, Wood Duck sightings swell in late March and April. Some wintering birds always linger in Massachusetts, but most of our population is migratory, and only visible here during the breeding season. The April pulse of Wood Ducks represents birds that breed to our north, passing through at the same time our local breeders arrive.
True to their name, Wood Ducks prefer flooded forests and wetlands with standing trees (or at least lots of cover). During migration, you can look for groups of them in more open water, and even on urban ponds.
A Population On The Rebound
Wood Ducks are doing well in Massachusetts, although populations in some parts of the USA are shrinking. Overall, Wood Duck numbers are on the rise, despite the species’ precipitous decline in at the turn of the century. In the late 1800s, the persecution of American beavers slowed the creation of wooded wetlands, and existing habitat was cleared or drained for agriculture. Unregulated hunting for Wood Duck feathers and meat continued into the early 20th century until their total extinction seemed like a real possibility.
Wood Ducks’ decline coincided with the dawn of the conservation movement, and bird-lovers, biologists and concerned outdoorspeople all rallied to bring Wood Ducks back from the brink. Wood Duck protection was a strong motivator in passing the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act—the keystone of legal protection for wild birds—which remains critical for Wood Duck populations today. Overzealous pesticide application after WWII dealt another blow to their population, which lasted into the 1970s. Luckily, Wood Duck populations have been on the rise again—in stark contrast with historically common species which faced ultimately insurmountable threats (like the Passenger Pigeon).
Help Wood Ducks— Get A Nest Box
Nest boxes made their debut as a conservation tool during early efforts to protect Wood Ducks. As cavity nesters that prefer sites high up and away from predators, Wood Ducks struggle to nest in wetlands without standing trees- but nest boxes provide a great alternative! If you live near a marshy wetland, consider building one or buying one at the Mass Audubon store.