[Feature photo via Flickr user TexasEagle – http://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/]
Article by Yank Moore, Conservation Technician
Jekyll Island Authority
Wood ducks are often considered one of the most stunning waterfowl that inhabits our coastal waters. They are a medium sized perching duck, with the males showing an ornate chestnut and green iridescent pattern on nearly every feather. The females are not quite as colorful, having a light to dark brown body with white patches around the eye and on the throat. They can often be found in wooded swamps, shallow lakes, and even our local marshes. These birds can be seen year round in Georgia with a spike in numbers during the winter months when northern populations migrate south to avoid the cold weather.
Wood ducks have been hunted throughout modern history for their taste and beauty. They were traded throughout Europe in the late 1800s, where they were being used to boost the ornamental hat market. In the early 1900s, the American populations of wood ducks were nearly extinct throughout their entire range. This along with the destruction of other migratory populations ultimately led to the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1916 and the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Since then wood duck populations have grown slowly, with the help of conservationists and natural resource managers, to what we encounter today.
Wood ducks are naturally cavity nesters that rely on other animals or nature to hollow out a hole in a dead or dying tree near water before they can move in to nest. Since these birds have such specific requirements for nesting, conservationists have helped this beautiful species make a comeback by building nesting boxes.
Here on Jekyll Island our conservation staff recently built and installed three wood duck boxes made of natural western cedar. We’ve placed these boxes around the island and they can be seen by anyone with a since of adventure and a pair of binoculars. The first is on the west side of Horton Pond across from Villas by the Sea. Also at this location, you can expect to find hooded mergansers and pied-billed grebes. The second location is tucked away in a pond on Indian Mounds hole 14, a location that we hope will contribute to our efforts to gain Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification for the course. The third and final location was chosen for an educational opportunity as much as a conservation effort and can be found on the nature trail across Beachview Road from the 4H center in a willow-dominated freshwater slough. All of these locations provide suitable nesting habitat for wood ducks while offering an educational and aesthetic component to the overall natural feel of Jekyll Island.