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Winter home of the Snow Geese and one of Canada's top birdwatching sites.
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Wood Ducks

The Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) is one of the most colourful birds at the Sanctuary and is present year-round. The species gets its name from its habit of nesting in tree cavities, using old woodpeckers holes or artificial nest boxes. For most of the winter, about 40 are present and found mainly among the tall Douglas Firs of East and North Dykes where there are shaded shallow sloughs with overhanging branches to roost on. As early as January, we start to see them displaying on fences and in trees. This marks the start of their courtship, and the place becomes noisy in February with the various sharp whistles of the males ("drakes"), and odd squeals and mutterings of the females ("hens") as they mill around in groups, sorting out who is going to mate with who, and which duck box is the best nest site.

Nests are built in March or April, with ducklings hatching in May and June. They do not gather nest material, using just the loose wood debris inside the hole or the wood shaving provided in boxes. These materials cushion the first few eggs, and by the time there is a full set of eggs ready to incubate, the hen has pulled downy feathers from her chest to make an insulating blanket around the eggs. Incubation ltakes 28 to 32 days, and the eggs all hatch within a day of one another. After a day, the ducklings climb out of the nest and drop down to the waiting hen below. We rarely witness this early morning drop, but the new ducklings are quite noticeable on their first day, racing across the surface of ponds to follow their very vocal mother. Usually, a hen lays 12 to 14 eggs. Some broods can be quite large (more than 15 young), which usually indicates a "dump nest" has happened, where another hen has deposited extra eggs in a nest. Often this is done by a young female that has not yet found her own nest site. Ducklings stay with the hen for three months until they can fly.

During the summer, as ducklings grow to adult size, the adult birds go through the gradual annual moult of their feathers, tending to also be flightless and a lot less conspicuous. By late summer, all Wood Ducks are a bit scarce, but may be exploring the nearby sloughs of the island and Fraser River. In the fall, they slowly return to their favourite haunts and are in fresh, showy plumage.

We have posted photos of this duck and other Sanctuary birds on Flickr.

Bird in a Box

Wood Ducks are just one of the birds that nest in natural cavities in trees. They are called "cavity-nesters", as are a few other ducks, most owls, swallows and small birds such as chickadees and wrens, as well as the woodpeckers.

People can make wooden nest boxes if natural cavities are scarce. Wood Ducks need a deep box of natural wood, with enough floor space for the hen to lie down, and wood shavings on the bottom. The size and location of the entrance hole is the most critical part to get right, as it needs to be just big enough for the duck to enter but not large enough for predators such as mink and racoon. The hole needs to be up near the top, so that the nest is in the darkened bottom and out of reach from the hole.


Wood Ducks are omnivorous, meaning that they eat a lot of different things. Water plants, seeds, and invertebrates are eaten, but you may notice this species rooting around in the northeast corner in the fall whenever the water is up around the oaks in that area. They are looking for the acorns floating in the shallows. The flooded conditions soften the acorn shells, making the edible nuts more accessible.

Wood Ducks across North American tend to eat more fruit and nuts than any of the other waterfowl. Here in the Sanctuary, they are also drawn to the bird feeders, not just for the grain, but for the nutty components such as sunflower seed hearts.

Ducks Unlimited Canada has construction plans for boxes.

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