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Wood Ducks are surprisingly beautiful fowl

Silver State Post of Deer Lodge, Montana

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In my opinion, the Wood Duck is the most beautiful of all of the waterfowl. In fact, the unique patterns and colors of this species rival nearly all of North America's birds. I can't help admire this species every time I see it. Nature out did itself with this one.

Wood Ducks are not abundant in the Upper Clark Fork, like Mallards or American Wegion, but they are common, breeding in secluded ponds and marshes throughout the valley. A few winter in the warmer areas of Montana, but most winter in the deep South east of the Mississippi and along the Pacific coast. Breeding adult males are stunning with an almost improbable array of colors, distinguishing this duck from all others. In silhouette this species is small, shows a stubby bill, crested head, and long squared off tail. They only weigh 1.3 pounds compared to the more common 2.4 pound Mallard. The array of colors begins with the bill. It is a combination of reddish orange at the base and lower mandible, white above and black tipped. The head is round with a drooping green crest outlined in white. There is a bright white "chin-strap", below the red eye with dark iris, extending to the neck. The remainder of the head is dark. The chest is slaty brown with white spots. The flank is yellow to light tan, separated from the breast by a perpendicular white bar. The back and raised long tail are dark with a streak of white extending up onto the tail.

Females and immature are muted gray brown with blue and green highlights in the wing. Their most distinguishing field mark is a large white teardrop surrounding the eye.

Wood Ducks are usually found in small groups, and do not mix with other species. They prefer areas that are sheltered with over-hanging branches reaching the water, creating dark and secretive areas. They are most at home in swamps rather than open water in large ponds and lakes. They have the unique habit of perching in trees, often high above the water. They are surprisingly nimble as they walk along tree branches. They prefer natural tree cavities or nest boxes for incubating eggs that are close to the water.

If you have not observed a Wood Duck in our valley, take the time to search secluded ponds with vegetation that reaches out over the water. Be sure and take a camera, you won't believe the beauty of this species.

Copyright 2012 Silver State Post, Deer Lodge, Montana. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 4, 2012

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