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Wood Duck

Photo: Roddy Scheer

You’ll see a lot of waterfowl out on Seattle’s inland waterways, but perhaps none as striking as the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). Males are indeed distinguished by regal coloration — iridescent green, blue, and purple feathers are offset by white racing stripes and red eyes.

While you won’t miss one of these males if they paddle by you, you’ll have to look harder for their mates. Female Wood Ducks’ mottled brown and white appearance helps them blend into their surroundings when nesting so as not to alert raccoons, foxes, minks, crows and other wildlife that prey on their eggs and ducklings. This evolutionary adaptation makes sense given Wood Ducks are the only ducks that produce two broods of ducklings per year.

Wood Ducks, measuring just 17-20 inches long bill to tail feathers and weighing in at just 1.5 pounds, may look delicate. But they are hardy survivors, fine-tuned for survival along the woody lakeshores and streamsides they call home. They are one of the few North American duck species that have sharp claws on their feet, which they use to perch in trees and nest in tree cavities nearby favorite feeding grounds where they dabble their beaks into the water and filter-feed for aquatic plants, seeds and the occasional insect or crustacean. They can also fly upwards of 30 miles an hour, which sometimes helps them avoid predators on the wing like eagles, hawks and owls.

If you want to see one for yourself, there is no better place than Seattle’s inland waterways. Your best bet is by taking a paddle around the Union Bay Natural Area and/or the Arboretum’s Duck Bay. Since these little beauties are skittish and tend to shove off from shore when people are hiking around on land, kayaking is an ideal way to see them. Approach slowly and do more gliding than paddling when you are in prime Wood Duck habitat along the shoreline. Sometimes they’ll even swim toward you if you stay calm and quiet. It’s also nice to keep in mind that these Wood Ducks tend to be resident (not migratory), so they and their ancestors have likely occupied the same nest sites for decades. Hopefully Seattle can keep and even expand the wetland habitat where these ducks and so many other wildlife species call home.