Everglades Species Profile: The Wood Duck

duckThere are numerous species of birds that can be found in the Everglades. At times in the winter, the sight of these birds can look like a scene out of the famous film, “The Birds.” Why? Well, birds migrate down to the Everglades for the winter so hundreds of birds are flying and gathering in the area. For this article, we wanted to focus on one bird so calls the Everglades its home: the wood duck.

The wood duck is a North American bird with very colorful features; it has blues, greens, purples mixed with white and black stripes and patches. Because of its coloring, it is known to be a popular birdwatching bird and its sought after by hunters.

In Florida, the wood duck is also known as the “summer duck” or “acorn duck.”  It was nearly extinct in the early 1900s, but its numbers were able to increase due the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act  in 9 1918 that restricted hunting of these birds. Because of this act, the wood ducks is now one of the most abundant waterfowl species on the continent.

Wood ducks have a large head, short neck, long square tail, and a long, slicked-back head crest. The males are more colorful than the females with a red bill and eyes whereas the females are mostly gray and brown with a white ring around their eyes.

Wood ducks’ habitat ranges from Quebec, Canada to south Florida. They migrate up north around March. This type of duck prefers to be around swamps and upland forests near freshwater, which is why the Everglades is an ideal location. They like to be surrounded by shrubs and plants so they have areas where they can find insects, seeds, and fruit.

Wood ducks nest in tree cavities, which keeps them out of harm’s way from foxes, opossums, raccoons, snakes, skunks, and other predators, including other ducks. After nesting, wood ducks molt all their feathers at once and cannot fly again until their new flight feathers emerge in 3 to 4 weeks.

Although the wood duck gets most of its food in shallow waters, it does obtain a lot of food by foraging on the ground in woody swamps and forests, unlike other ducks. Wood ducks eat seeds, fruits, parts of plants, small acorns, some insects, some snails and crawfish.

The wood ducks are one of the only duck species that nest in Florida. Pairing takes place in winter and egg-laying occurs between February and March.  They lay around 10 to 15 eggs.  After hatching, ducklings will leave the nest the next day. The mother wood duck will stay with her babies until they can fly (around 9 weeks). Due to predators, only 3-4 ducks will survive long enough to fly.

Maximum lifespan of a wood duck is 15 years, but the majority don’t live longer than 3 to 4 years old. To hunt a wood duck or any duck species in Florida, you must have a Florida hunting license and a free Florida Waterfowl permit. These can be obtained from county tax collectors and their subagents, such as hunting supply stores. There are hunting regulations on these ducks including season length and the number of killed ducks allowed per person per day.

If you’re a fan of ducks, you’ll want to visit the Everglades where you’ll see a ton of them! Come explore the Everglades by airboat on a ride with Captain Mitch. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours give you a glimpse of the Everglades and a possible glimpse of some wood ducks like no other. To book an airboat ride, click here or call 800-368-0065.




A male and female mallard.

The term “mallard” has often been used to describe any duck that is found in the wild, but is actually an official term used to describe a specific species of duck, the Anas platyrhynchos. While mallards are a type of wild duck, this does not go to say that every duck that is found in the wild is a mallard. While not a native species to all, the mallard can now be found on every continent in the world except for Antartica, and is especially comfortable in the subtropical climate of South Florida. Most all domestic breeds of ducks in the world today are descendants of mallards, so it could be said almost every duck you encounter in the wild has at least a little bit of mallard blood in it.

Mallards are a medium-sized waterfowl species, averaging in lengths of around two feet and with wingspans of around three feet. Females are mostly mottled in various shades of brown and tan, leaving them virtually indistinguishable from other species of dabbling ducks. Male mallards, however, are quite a site to behold. Most notable for their glossy green heads, white collars, pale grey bellies, and black and white tipped tails, the males are arguably the “prettier” of the two genders. But while certain characteristics can be associated with both male and female mallards, the malleability of their genetic code allows for quite a range of variation in appearance between ducks of the mallard species.

What makes mallards unique from other waterfowl species, and from much of the Florida Everglades wildlife in general, is that while most species tend to suffer and decline in population from their interactions with humans, mallards have actually benefited. These ducks are highly adaptable to a variety of surroundings, including heavily populated areas and areas of urban development. In fact, in addition to being found throughout the Everglades, they are also quite common around ponds and lakes within housing communities and commercial centers.

But while it can be argued that mallards have benefited from their relationship with humans, it can also be said that humans have not benefited from their relationship with mallards, but most importantly, the species hurt the most by mallards are other types of ducks. Mallards are capable of breeding with nearly all other types of ducks, and are considered an invasive species or pest in many areas where they can be found, because of what is called “genetic pollution.” The idea behind this concept is that, because mallards hybridize with so many other species, it creates conservation concerns for specific species of duck that are already in danger. After enough hybridization, the original species will cease to exist, essentially causing the possible extinction of a variety of exotic and domestic duck species.

Though you likely have observed some form of mallard in the wild before, more than likely at the local park or perhaps even in your own backyard, mallards can still be appreciated while taking an airboat tour through the Florida Everglades. Florida swampland tours are not only a great opportunity to view the local winged wildlife, but you can also observe many of the local mammals, amphibians, and lizards too.