Handsome, yet seemingly modest, the Wood Duck is a bird each and every one of us should admire.  It represents the beauty and wonder of the natural world.  The male wood duck’s crested green head and iridescent plumage catch the eye quickly and make it difficult for any observer to turn away.  His red eyes and sleek bodylines add to the handsome portrait.  It is a sight that is seldom matched.

The wood duck also represents the marvel of evolution and it’s function within the ecosystem in which we live today.  Nesting in tree cavities, it has taken up a niche which most of its fellow avian species have ignored for ages.  Returning to the male’s brilliant colors, natural selection has pushed for the striking green head and attractive plumage.  The sexual dimorphism of the wood duck is accentuated as much as any other type of bird, and most often more so than any other.  It is also the only North American duck that will produce two broods in one year; a possible response to predation and low reproduction rates in ages past.  The young ducks plummet from their nesting sites in trees all the way to the ground, but luckily for the cute waterfowl, nature has bestowed upon them the ability to plop harmlessly onto the forest floor before waddling on their way.

This bird also represents the struggle for survival that many species have had to endure due to the interference of man.  Hunting and loss of suitable nesting sites in the early part of the 20th century drove wood duck numbers down.  If ignored, the extinction of these creatures would have been inevitable.

Fortunately the wood duck also represents hope for species on the brink, and the fact that man can change his ways and remedy his errors.  By changing game laws, protecting vital habitat, and building nest boxes, we have been able to bring the population of the wood duck back to a sustainable number.  Now they can be seen in ponds and lakes all over North America.  Drive into a National Wildlife Refuge on a brisk fall morning and you can find them swimming calmly in the cool mist.  Take a stroll in the spring and you may catch a glimpse of wood ducks with their young, teaching them, watching over them, and cherishing them.

Wood ducks represent everything that is fascinating and interesting about the world around us.  They can teach us about the way the world works and challenge us to observe them patiently and quietly.  They reward us with their stunning beauty and with those same challenges we, as birders, passionately engage in.

This post was written by William Lynch.  William, a graduate student in the Ecology program at Rutgers University, is extremely passionate about the environment, wildlife, and all of our natural resources.  He’ll also be getting married this summer! – Mike

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