Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Considered by many to be the most beautiful of all waterfowl, the colorful Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) is somewhat unique in that it is one of the few North American ducks that nest in trees. Also known as the Carolina Duck, the Wood Duck can be found in eastern North America and the west coast of the US, as well as in western Mexico. They usually select wooded swamps, marshes, ponds or shallow lakes as a breeding habitat and will nest in tree cavities close to water. Despite their popularity, these birds are shy and skittish and they are quick to make an escape if disturbed or threatened.

The average Wood Duck is 47-54 cm in length with a wingspan of 66-73 cm. This makes them a medium-sized duck with long, broad wings. They also have a crest on their heads and a long tail. The male is most spectacular during breeding season. Between fall and summer he has a red bill, red eye and green head with striking white stripes around his face and chest. These stripes start as a white throat patch which then grow into ‘finger-like’ extensions which can be found at the base of the neck and the bottom of the cheek. His breast becomes a strong chestnut colour and there is a white vertical strip at the lower margin. His flanks are a golden colour which are bordered at the top with a white flank stripe. His belly is also white and his wings and back become a shiny dark green-blue. There is also an iridescent blue-green speculum on the rear of his wings with a white edge. When he is not breeding, the male looks quite similar to the female, except that he retains his distinctive white neck patch and red bill. The adult female is much less colourful and has a grey bill, a white teardrop patch around her eye and a white throat. Her head and neck are a grey-brown colour and her grey-brown breast is stippled with white which fades into a white belly. Her back and wings are a dark brown.

Generally speaking, the Wood Duck eats seeds, acorns, fruit and both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. They peck and dabble on the surface of the water and may dive under for food. When they nest, they may make use of nesting boxes if these are available. The nest is lined with down from the female and she lays between 6 and 15 eggs in a clutch. Soon after hatching, the down-covered ducklings jump out the nest and make their way to the water where they put their natural swimming talent to good use.

Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)

February 9, 2009 by  
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A common sight in Central America, South America and Mexico, the Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is popular both as a captive and wild animal. It is said that Muscovies originated in Brazil but today small populations can be found as far away as California. Muscovy Ducks are non-migratory creatures that prefer to live in forested swamps, lakes and trees due to the abundance of food present at such sites. They generally eat plant material and some small vertebrates and insects. Muscovy Ducks get most of their food by grazing and dabbling in shallow water. When they are not nesting, these ducks often choose to roost in trees at night. Domesticated Muscovy Ducks are the only such ducks not to originate from mallard stock.

The average bird is 64-86 cm long with the male being quite a bit bigger than the female. Traditional wild Muscovies are strictly black and white in colour though domestication has resulted in several color variations. Hence, you may find blue, blue and white, brown, brown and white, white, black, lavender and calical coloured ducks amongst the traditional black and white colored birds on farms and at zoos. It is interesting to note that domesticated Muscovy Ducks are commonly known as ‘Barbary Ducks’. The male Muscovy Duck has a bare red face and a low crest of feathers which he can raise and lower at will. There is a pronounced caruncle at the base of the bill and his bill is yellow in color. The feet of the Muscovy have strong, sharp claws which can be used for roosting in trees and which are webbed for swimming. However, the Muscovy Duck does not swim as much as other ducks do because their oil glands are not as well developed as other those of other duck species.

Muscovy Ducks are not particularly monogamous and males and females do not form stables pairs. Hence, sexual intercourse between the two sexes may on occasion be forced. The hen will usually make use of a tree hole or hollow for a nest and in certain countries, such as Mexico, nest boxes have been frequently used. The average clutch size varies from 8-21 eggs which are incubated for a period of 35 days. The hens are capable of having three broods a year. Many consider these birds to be of value as they consume pesky insects in their natural environment. However, they are even more popular as a food source and this has resulted in them becoming quite scarce in some parts of their natural territory.