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Wood Ducks

The first time I saw a wood duck on Dewees, I was all alone in the Conservation area looking for Blue-Winged Teal.  I couldn’t believe the amazing colors on this drake as he slipped quietly between the cypress knees and vanished. We’ve heard them but rarely see them, and they show up a few times a year on our birding data.

wood ducks


We do have wood duck nesting boxes in the blackwater swamp area, but occasionally you’ll find other species using the boxes, like these screech owls.
screech owl babies in wood duck box

Wood ducks are one of the most recognizable species of ducks because the males are so brilliantly colored.  They are also a species that of concern for SCDNR, which has a program to increase their options for habitat:

SCDNR’s wood duck project gives a helping hand to wood ducks as a species, supplementing their natural nesting areas in cavities of forested wetlands by providing artificial nesting sites. Each year, the Wood Duck Box Program allows SCDNR to offer a limited number of preconstructed wood duck boxes and predator guards. Up to 3 boxes per applicant will be available for distribution throughout the state.

Recently, Lori, the McAlhanys, and their friends Dawson Cherry and Ryan Moore installed a new wood duck box on a small freshwater pond on the island.   Dawson participated in the DNR Lottery and won three boxes. I asked him about his interest in placing one on Dewees.

He said, “The reason Dewees came to mind is that I see wood ducks run up and down the marsh during the winter months.  My friend Joe “Bubber” McAlhany is a photographer and birder himself that lives on Dewees, so I thought this might be a good spot.  Lori, the naturalist, identified a place she was seeing wood ducks so that is why we put it there. Also, years ago when the Royall’s owned the island it was a hunt camp for ducks.  

I hunt and harvest ducks annually. This is a way for me to give back and keep it sustainable.  Without, SCDNR, Ducks Unlimited, and programs such as this we would not have ducks…



To all those at Dewees, Lori and Bubber in particular, thanks so much for the opportunity and we are hopeful to see the first batch of ducklings soon!!! The video below was sent by Lawson this week as he checked a wood duck box.

All about Wood Ducks

  • Some facts about Wood Ducks: 
  • Their feet are equipped with claws to help with climbing and grabbing onto trees.

  • They nest in tree cavities or artificial cavities.

  • The young are precocial, hatching as alert little bundles of down.

  • Most can walk, swim, and feed themselves within an hour after hatching.

  • They lay 6-16 eggs in the nest

  • The incubation period is 28-37 days.

  • They generally prefer fresh water habitat for nesting.

A wood Duck Box Story from Carl and Cathy Miller (with pics and video)

Cathy and Carl Miller, regular island friends who have participated in at least 30 official Audubon bird counts over the last 16 years, have a backyard on James Island where they have successfully raised wood ducks. These photos show their wood ducks moving into boxes, incubating eggs, with ducklings, and encouraging them to jump out. These photos are from their blog, Pluff Mud Perspectives.

More about our Ducks and Where they Nest

Ducks can feed and rest in waters that range from fresh to very salty, but they generally nest near fresh water because young hatchlings don’t do well drinking salty water. Many ducks nest on the ground, where they might be fair game for skunks, minks and possums. Our Mallards, Gadwall, Widgeon,and Blue Winged Teal all nest on the ground in dense vegetation. A few, like Wood Ducks, nest in tree cavities far north of here, including Bufflehead and Hooded Mergansers. All About Birds has some great range maps that demonstrate the nesting areas. It’s amazing that so many of our winter ducks travel way up north for breeding.

The most commonly seen ducks this winter have been American Wigeon, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Hooded Mergansers, Mottled Ducks, and Blue Winged Teal. Be sure to scan those flocks of ducks on the impoundment for a last glimpse of some of these species.  Without fanfare, they’ll slip away one morning to northern nesting grounds. Already there are fewer Wigeon and Gadwall than the large flocks of January (200+), but on quiet mornings you can still hear the whistles and whispers between them as they dabble in the marsh.
Keep an eye, as well on migrants: we have several other species that migrate through or have spent other winters with us, including Ruddy Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallards, Lesser Scaup, Northern Shovelers, Redheads, and Green Winged Teal.