Wood Ducks: Splendid Spring Arrival

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

A handsome drake Wood Duck in a vernal pool along Red Clay Creek, following his female companion (tail visible at right edge). Image by Derek Stoner, March 2, 2012.

There may be plenty of room to debate what bird wears the crown of “Most Beautiful” but I think a lot of voters would happily cast their ballot in favor of the Wood Duck.  When these ducks arrive from their wintering grounds in the Deep South they are a most welcome reminder that the seasons are changing.   Known by a nickname of “Summer Duck,”  Wood Ducks are a symbol of the warm season that follows their return.

Today I chanced upon a beautiful drake Wood Duck and his mate as they explored a vernal pool along Route 82 just up the Red Clay Creek from Ashland Nature Center.  Amidst a setting of freshly-emerged Skunk Cabbage and last fall’s brown leaves, the drake’s plumage exhibited every remaining hue of the color spectrum.  

The Wood Duck hen’s mottled brown plumage disguises her in woodland and stream settings alike. Image by Derek Stoner, March 2, 2012.

After the Wood Duck pair flew from their roadside puddle, I noted that the water contained multiple Wood Frog egg masses.  Chances are good that these ducks took advantage of these eggs as an easy source of protein, to supplement their favored diet of acorns, grass seeds, and aquatic vegetation. 

Watch for Wood Ducks right now as they begin to arrive on our local streams and marshes.  Soon they will be investigating nest boxes and preparing for another “Summer Duck” season of raising young!

8 thoughts on “Wood Ducks: Splendid Spring Arrival”

  1. Wow, great shots and such wonderful information!!! I didn’t even know that wood ducks left and so neat to know that it’s time for them to return. Great stuff, thanks so much, Ben.

  2. Great pics Derek!

    Phoebe sightings yet?

    Black wiskered vireos are now singing but fairly hard to see- will send pics if able to get some.

    Enjoy spring

  3. Derek,

    My Denver sister’s reply after I forwarded your posting:
    “fabulous pictures; what kind of camera does he use?”
    Can you share the camera details?

    thanks, Barb

  4. Barb-

    The camera setup that I use is a Nikon D300s (12 megapixels) paired with a 80mm to 400mm telephoto lens. This is a DSLR camera setup, where you can use different lenses depending upon your photography objective. The reason I use this particular camera combo is for its overall versatility when photography wildlife. The camera is always ready to go and up to the many challenges of photographing action in the outdoors.

    – Derek

  5. Rosemary-

    Wood Ducks are already showing up all over southern Delaware and the rest of the region. In fact, with this mild winter we just experienced, some Wood Ducks spent the winter the First State. Great places to see Wood Ducks in southern Delaware include the Boardwalk Trail at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the Finis Pool area at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Good luck watching Wood Ducks!

    – Derek

  6. Ben-

    As you have probably noticed, Wood Ducks may be observed in certain locations (especially in southern Delaware) throughout the winter in the region. As long we do not have extended periods of iced-over conditions, a few hardy Wood Ducks will stick it out for the winter in Delaware. In fact, on the Christmas Bird Count this New Year’s Day at Prime Hook, I counted 27 Wood Ducks flying over a marsh just after dawn. Now it is time for these ducks to start being more visible as they conduct their courtship displays.

    – Derek

  7. Bill-

    Phoebes are just starting to be reported in Delaware, but none yet observed at Ashland. Should be soon!

    Glad you enjoyed the photos. Thanks for reading the blog as always.

    – Derek

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