New Hampshire Wildlife News
by Certified Wildlife Biologist, Eric P. Orff

NH Wood Duck

Welcome to the Wood Duck's World. Wheeee, wheeee, a hen wood duck sounds the alarm to her counterparts totally concealed in the marsh grass surrounding a secluded beaver pond as you approach.

Barely perceptible waves too, give you a clue that the wood duck, or ducks, are secreted along the shore toward the beaver lodge as you try to stealthily approach the pond. Despite the grandeur of the male wood duck, whose regal looks top all other North American waterfowl, they are seldom seen by most.

Wood ducks prefer to tuck themselves into beaver ponds and along seldom-disturbed streams surrounded by trees. You will not find a wood duck begging for handouts at some local park. They remain regal in a true sense of the word. Wood ducks are in fact very numerous in New Hampshire, second in numbers only to the ubiquitous mallard. In the spring of 2004 Fish and Game Department biologist conducted the annual breeding waterfowl survey which showed an estimated 19,496 pairs of breeding wood ducks in New Hampshire. The bland brown females are cavity nesters selecting an unused woodpecker or squirrel hole in a tree up to a mile from water to lay a dozen eggs which they will incubate for four weeks before hatching in mid to late May.

The newly hatched young will follow their mother to a nearby secluded pond to devour plant and insects quickly growing to adult size by late summer. Adults primarily feed on vegetation and will sometimes be flushed from a stand of oaks far from water in order to feed on acorns. Based on figure available for 2002 there were 4,789 duck hunters in this state and they took 4,300 wood ducks during the fall season. Wood ducks are an early migratory as far as waterfowl go. Wood ducks banded in New Hampshire have migrated long distances and have been taken by hunters in places you would least expect. Some of those places include Floral City and Tallahassee Florida, Vanleave Mississippi, Methuen Township Ontario and Magnolia Arkansas.

Our wood ducks do wander. Fortunately New Hampshire has an abundant beaver population, which has created thousands and thousands of acres of wood duck habitat since the beavers return about 50 years ago. To manage and maintain wood duck numbers means maintaining beaver populations by providing adequate food supplies around their ponds. Trapping a few beavers from a pond each year will increase by decades the life of the pond by making the forage available around the pond last much longer. Small patch cuts, that encourage hardwood regeneration, will also increase the lifespan of a beaver pond. Remember to control and feed the beavers to keep wood ducks on your ponds .

Eric Orff, wildlife biologist

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