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The Story of the Wood Duck

Once threatened with near extinction, by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it seemed likely that the beautiful wood duck would disappear. Until 1918, these ducks were the most heavily hunted waterfowl species in North America. Hunting pressure was intense – hunting occurred from September to April. Surviving wood ducks saw their breeding and winter habitats dwindle. Ongoing destruction of flooded forests and bottom lands left little prime breeding areas left.

Male and Female Wood Duck

In 1918, a nationwide ban on the hunting of wood ducks was initiated. Simultaneously, government and park authorities and citizen groups started to lobby for the protection and preservation of precious wetlands. The true turning point, for the wood duck, was the 1930’s where a nesting box program was created.

Basically, wood ducks need a cavity in which to nest and an adjacent wetland habitat that contains some trees, shrubs, or dense vegetation that provides quantities of aquatic insects for the ducklings. Generally, if there is a substantial food base but natural tree cavities are scarce, there is a significant use of man made nesting boxes. It is estimated, today, that 300,000 wood duck boxes produce 100,000 ducklings annually in North America.

Nesting Wood Ducks

Miraculously, by 1941, wood duck populations had reasonably recovered. The threat of extinction was no longer imminent. However, the true reason for the sustained wood duck population, was and is, the vast army of volunteers that maintain wood duck nesting boxes.

To bring this discussion to a local level, both Christie Lake and Valens Lake of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, have embraced the wood duck recovery program. By the 1980’s, our ‘wood duck Alfie’ had erected 35 House Wren, 15 Eastern bluebird and 5 Wood duck nesting boxes at Christie Lake and an additional 6 Wood duck boxes at Valens Lake. For years, he has maintained these boxes with hundreds of ducklings fledged.

Report card time. So what is the wood duck population status? According to Ducks Unlimited Canada, wood duck populations seem to be remaining stable throughout much of their North American range. According to their late 1980’s census, it was determined that 1 million and 1.65 million wood ducks were in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways. The reason for these outstanding numbers? Because of the nesting box program.

And here is when we say a thank you to all the volunteers involved with the wood duck program and all the conservation areas, such as Valens and Christie Lakes, for supporting this ongoing effort. So the next time you are at your local conservation area take a look for those wood duck boxes. Who knows, maybe a wood duck might be watching you perched in a tree nearby.

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