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How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck?
Ask Our Pond Experts
Ask Our Pond Experts

How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck?

Asked By: Robert of Galesville, WI

A: As some of the most stunningly colorful pond visitors, wood ducks (Aix sponsa) are easy to spot when you know what to look for. Get out your binoculars and follow along with this field primer on wood duck markings and behavior.


Adult male and female wood ducks measure about 20 inches high with wingspans of 26 to 29 inches. They have crested heads with thin necks and long, broad tails. When airborne, their silhouettes show skinny necks, long bodies, thick tails, and short wings. Wood duck feet have sharp claws for perching in trees—a behavior that coined their name!

During mating season from autumn through early summer, drake wood ducks sport ornate plumage to attract females. These colorful ducks’ signature markings include:

  • Red eyes and bill
  • Iridescent purplish-green head and crest
  • Black cheeks with white stripes that extend up each cheek
  • A yellow patch at the base of his bill
  • Chesnut red chest and rump with white speckling
  • Beige sides with black and white stripes along the edges
  • White belly
  • Blackish-blue tail, back, and wings
  • Iridescent teal speculum feathers

After mating season, wood drakes molt their bold colors for eclipse plumage that resembles female coloring. They can still be distinguished from hens by their bright red eyes and bills.

Female wood ducks lack the showy plumage of their male counterparts. Rather than colorful feathers, they have subtly dappled grayish-brown bodies, with sides a lighter shade than their backs. Their heads are marked by muted green crests, white feathers on their throats, and dark eyes lined with white rings. Wood hen speculums feature deep purple and gold coloring along with the standard iridescent teal feathers.


If you are near a roost, you can hear wood duck calls early in the morning and late in the evening. Males attract females with a squeaky whistle of "jweep," and the females answer with a loud "oo-eek" sound.

Wood ducks pair up in the late winter and breed in the spring. After breeding, they build a nest near water—preferably in a hollowed tree either naturally formed or abandoned by other animals. If they cannot find suitable trees, wood ducks will readily use nest boxes built by people. Check out how to create a nesting box to attract wood ducks to your pond here.

Lined with feathers from the female, a wood duck's nest can house anywhere from six eggs to more than 40 eggs. Why the wide range? If a female cannot find a nest of her own, she will lay her eggs inside another wood duck's nest.

After a few weeks, baby wood ducklings thick with full down coats hatch from their shells and venture into the world. Rather than being raised in the nest, these tiny ducks get their feet wet by jumping from the nest and waddling to the water to join Mom. Talk about sink or swim!


Wood ducks eat a lot of protein as ducklings and juveniles, preferring bugs, worms, and the occasional small fish. As they get older, their diet grows to include more plant-based fare. These omnivores dine on fruits, seeds, nuts, aquatic plants, insects, isopods, and snails.

Wood ducks are particularly drawn to open-water areas with dense foliage for hiding and foraging. They prefer clean, clear water when diving for dinner. You can optimize their food sources using muck-busting and water-clarifying solutions like MuckAway and EcoBoost PRx.

The bacteria and enzymes in MuckAway eat through the accumulated muck and debris at the bottom of your pond. EcoBoost PRx is a natural bacteria enhancer that binds suspended organics to clear the water. When you use these natural products together, you and your local ducks will enjoy a cleaner, clearer water column!

Attracting Wood Ducks & Other Waterfowl to Your Pond

Besides keeping the water balanced, there are a few steps you can take to make your pond or lake inviting to winged visitors. Still, some birds can be quite a nuisance, so it’s best to learn which species you want to attract and which you should deter. Check out the following waterfowl articles for more info, or contacts us at 866-POND-HELP.

Attracting Ducks to Your Pond
How to Deter Canada Geese
How to Deter Herons
Do Ducks Eat Duckweed?

Last Updated: June 12, 2024