Aix sponsa

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant east, fairly common west. Common regular breeder east and central, uncommon west. Rare regular winter visitor south and east, rare casual west.

Documentation: Specimen: WSC 33, Oct 1971 Antelope Co.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized.

Changes since 2000: The number of Wood Ducks breeding in Nebraska has increased markedly, primarily westward, continuing a trend that began in the 1970s; Rosche (1982) noted that Wood Duck had increased since 1976 in the Panhandle. At the same time, mid-winter records have become more numerous. The species was greatly reduced by the early 1900s, but is now estimated to number some 3,000,000 total individuals (Baldassarre 2014).   BBS trend analysis for Nebraska shows a 6.26% (95% C.I.; 3.32, 9.26) increase 1966-2015 and a 7.40% (95% C.I.; 0.64, 15.53) increase 2005-2015 (Sauer et al 2017).

Spring:  Feb 12, 12, 13 <<<>>> summer

Arrivals are concentrated in mid-Mar, coincident with the spring thaw; numbers peak mid-Mar through mid-Apr.

  • High counts: 100 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 17 Mar 2013, 84 at Cunningham Lake, Douglas Co 24 Mar 1996, 67 at North Platte NWR, Scotts Bluff Co 16 Apr 1997, and 65 at Boyer Chute NWR, Washington Co 20 Mar 2017.

SummerBreeding densities are associated with the availability of wetlands and tree cavities for nest sites and thus numbers are highest in the east and south.  Lowest densities occur in relatively treeless areas of the western Sandhills, Panhandle and Southwest. Placement of artificial nest boxes, especially during the latter part of the 20th Century, along with maturation of riparian habitat in central and western Nebraska, has contributed to the increases in numbers and expansion in range.

Most Wood Ducks breed at one year of age, but late nesting in the prior year may delay maturity and result in a skipped breeding season; this scenario may account for large numbers of apparent non-breeders in Jun, such as the 153 at Verdel Landing, Knox Co 2 Jun 2019. Earliest broods appear in early May, and flight is not achieved in Nebraska broods until mid-Jul.

  • High counts: 194 at Jack Sinn Memorial WMA, Lancaster Co 15 Jul 2012, 153 at Verdel Landing, Knox 2 Jun 2019, 98 at North Platte NWR 17 Jul 1995, and 90 there 25 Jun 1997.
  • Breeding phenology:
    Courting: 23 Mar
    Incubation: 7 May
    Broods: 4 May-21 Aug.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Jan 4, 5, 5

Flocks form in Aug as juveniles mature, such as 60-65 at Box Butte Reservoir, Dawes Co 12-22 Aug 1994. Departure dates are clustered in Oct, although individuals linger into Dec and straggle into early Jan away from wintering areas. A group of 16 in Lancaster Co 10 Jan 2016 was late for that number.

  • High counts: 417 near Neligh, Antelope Co 20 Oct 2020, 118 at a Butler Co wetland 28 Aug 2020, 117 at North Platte NWR 30 Oct 1997, 109 there 10 Sep 1998, 107 at 234th St Wetlands, Douglas Co 15 Oct 2017, and 85 at Heron Haven, Douglas Co 6 Sep 2017.

WinterWood Ducks rarely overwinter, but individuals occasionally can be found with wintering ducks and geese on available open water at reservoirs and parks. There are few apparently regular winter sites, however, most in the southeast. Pier Park in Grand Island, Hall Co has hosted as many as 46 as late as the 15 Dec 2012 Grand Island CBC, and 10-20 survived each of the winters 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 but only one was reported there 2018-2019, on 8 Jan, none 2019-2020, but up to eight as late as 3 Jan 2021. Other locations with multiple records are Lakeside Park, Douglas Co, where 10 wintered 2016-2017 and several have lingered into early Feb since 2012; four were there 9 Feb 2013, three on 3 Feb 2019, and as many as five 3 Jan-26 Feb 2021. Also in Douglas Co, three were at Heron Haven 26 Jan-2 Feb 2018 and one was at Flanagan Lake 20 Jan 2019. In Lancaster Co in 2018, as many as 16 lingered through 6 Feb at Branched Oak Lake and 1-2 were on Salt Creek trough 8 Feb.  One was on Salt Creek 12 Jan 2017. Also in Lancaster Co, two were at Pawnee Lake 9 Jan 2020, one at Pioneers Park 16 Jan 2016, and two at Shoemaker Marsh 10 Feb 2016. Dodge Co also has multiple records; two from 12-20 Jan 2012, 3 Jan 2017, and 5 Feb 2019.

Additional mid-winter records from the southeast are of  2-3 from 9 Jan-1 Feb 2012 Douglas Co, two in Cass Co 19 Jan 2013, one in Adams Co 3 Feb 2013, and singles were at Carter Lake, Douglas Co 3 Feb 2020, 5 Feb 2003, and 5 Feb 2005.

Away from the south and east, there are few reports 6 Jan- 11 Feb: 9 Jan 2006 Morrill Co, 11 Jan 2014 Scotts Bluff Co, 11 Jan-15 Feb 2003 Scotts Bluff Co, 18 Jan 2018 Lincoln Co, 21 Jan 2011 at Broken Bow, Custer Co, 31 Jan 2017 Hayes Co, 2 Feb 1997 Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co, and 3 Feb 1985 Boone Co.


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
WMA: Waterfowl Management Area (State)
WSC: Wayne State College


Photograph (top) of a Wood Duck at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co, 3 Apr 2009 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Baldassarre, G. 2014. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Sauer, J.R., D.K. Niven, J.E. Hines, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K.L. Pardieck, J.E. Fallon, and W.A. Link. 2017.  The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015 (Nebraska). Version 2.07. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 10 Mar 2021