By Sharon Arnold
Just a few riparian areas in Arizona support Wood Ducks, and Watson Woods along Granite Creek is a good place to spot them. Don’t be surprised if you see this colorful, distinctively marked duck — some might say, a gaudy bird — peering out of a nest hole.
Wood Ducks nest in natural cavities or nest boxes in wooded swamps or in trees along creeks and lakes. They are the only North American duck to produce two broods a year. A clutch may have up to 10 or 11 eggs. Chicks are alert when hatched and covered with down. A day after hatching, the nestlings are ready to fledge. The mother calls from below, and the ducklings jump down, sometimes from heights of 50 feet, without injury.
Wood Ducks have strong claws that grip bark and help them perch safely on branches near their nest site. They do not excavate a cavity preferring instead to use a site where a branch has broken off and created an opening.
Ornate, courting males swim speedily before an elegant female with wings and tail elevated sometimes with the head tilted back. Ritualized drinking, preening and shaking movements can be observed. Look for mated pairs in the Watson Woods pond and in the shallow, swampy south end of Watson Lake.
These ducks eat aquatic seeds, fruits, and insects by dabbling or by short, shallow dives and can sometimes be seen on dry land foraging for acorns or in fields seeking grain.
At one time, Wood Ducks were market hunted. They were almost extinct by the early 1900s. Due to improvements in wildlife management practices, they’ve made a strong comeback.
The Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas shows Yavapai County as the primary location for Wood Duck nesting with Granite Creek being a preferred site. As a result, Prescott Audubon Society chose this bird to be its logo which was created by artist and Prescott resident Diane Iverson.
Sharon Arnold keeps her eyes and ears open for birds. She is a strong supporter of efforts to preserve habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.