The wood duck, or “woodie,” is very popular among North American waterfowl hunters and for good reason. Not only are they one of the world’s most beautiful ducks, they are also typically considered among the tastiest. But perhaps the wood duck’s most valuable attribute to hunters is their distribution. Wood ducks nest throughout much of the U.S. and provide good waterfowl hunting opportunities where other duck species are uncommon. In fact, more wood ducks are harvested in the Atlantic Flyway than any other duck species! Across all flyways, wood ducks rank among the top five species in total harvest over the last 15 years.
Though wood ducks are one of our most common waterfowl species today, conservationists once believed that they were on the verge of extinction. In the late 1800s, waterfowl hunting was unregulated and wood ducks were harvested year-round in some areas. In addition, bottomland forests in the U.S., critical feeding and nesting habitat for woodies were disappearing. Wood ducks utilize natural tree cavities for nest sites and as older forests disappeared, so did available locations for nests. The wood duck population plummeted and wood ducks were considered rare in many parts of North America. By 1916, hunting of wood ducks was prohibited in 22 states, and by 1918 wood duck hunting was closed nationwide with the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The wood duck season remained closed for over 20 years (1918 – 1941).
The comeback of the wood duck is a true conservation success story. While harvest restrictions and improved habitat were critical to their recovery, a creative artificial nest cavity (wood duck box) was also important. In 1937, the U.S. Biological Survey (USFWS) tested the first wood duck boxes in Illinois. Wood ducks proved to be very adaptable, and over 50% of the boxes were used the first year. The success of those first 486 boxes prompted the proliferation of wood duck boxes throughout North America. Nearly 75 years later, it’s estimated that wood duck boxes produce 100,000 – 150,000 additional wood ducks each year.