Window On Wildlife

Nesting wood duck

Update: the second brood of ducklings left the second nest at 9:45 am on 6/22/2022.  The exit can be viewed on the above embedded play list. We were able to capture the exit from inside the duck box and from two different views outside of the duck box.

Watch the full morning video. The exit can be viewed at 2:58:00.

The first brood of ducklings left the first nest at 9:08 am on 6/10/2022. View a playlist of video that we were able to capture from that nest. .

Use the red slider that appears to move back and forth in time.

A wood duck hen incubates her eggs, usually 10-12 of them, for 25-37 days. She occasionally will roll the eggs over and departs only for brief periods to feed and drink, usually during the early morning and late afternoon.

Come the first week of June, start watching for star-like cracks forming near the blunt end of the eggs and listen for peeping, both signs the hatch is imminent in the next day or two. Once the eggs hatch, the ducklings aren't long for the nest. About 24 hours after hatching, the ducklings will jump to the ground below.

Wood duck

A male wood duck on the waterMale wood ducks are iridescent chestnut and green, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather. They are not territorial, with the exception that a male may fight off other males that approach his mate too closely. Courting males swim before a female with wings and tail elevated, sometimes tilting the head backwards for a few seconds. Males may also perform ritualized drinking, preening and shaking movements.

A female wood duck standingFemale wood ducks have a distinctive profile and delicate white pattern around the eye. Breeding pairs search for nest cavities during early morning. The male stands outside as the female enters and examines the site. Females only leave the nest for brief periods to feed and drink once eggs are layed. Other hens may look inside or enter another hen’s cavity. They either want to lay or "dump" their eggs and have that hen incubate and raise the hatchlings or are prospecting for available cavities. Nests with "dumped" eggs can contain as many as 29 eggs.

Fun facts

  • Females nest in cavities in deciduous trees at least 11 inches in diameter and commonly nest in artificial boxes
  • Once a cavity is selected and some of the eggs are laid, a nesting hen will pull feathers from their breast to line the bottom of the nest
  • Most nesting activity in Minnesota is initiated from late March to early June
  • Wood ducks are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws, allowing them to grip bark and perch on branches

Life history & habitat

Range of wood duck occurence in MinnesotaIt may take ducklings several hours to emerge from the egg. They will lay damp and almost motionless immediately after hatching. Once dry, ducklings become quite active and peep loudly.

Wetlands used by broods usually are shallow and have a substantial emergent and/or shrubby vegetation component. This vegetation provides cover to hide from predators and contains abundant populations of aquatic invertebrates, which are the primary food source for young ducklings.

The hen and her entire group of young, or brood, may use a single wetland or multiple wetlands.

The mortality rate of ducklings is relatively high for the first nine to 14 days of life before it stabilizes.

A wood duck hatchling jumping from the nestThe hen calls the ducklings from the nest but does not help them. Ducklings jump on their own, sometimes falling as far as 50 feet without injury. Once on the ground, the hen leads them to water.

The ducklings become capable of flight at 8–10 weeks of age and independent of the brood hen 5–8½ weeks after hatching.

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