The wood duck has long occupied a special place in the hearts of waterfowl fanciers, hunters, bird watchers, and others because of the male’s striking plumage. Along with the mandarin duck of China and Japan, it is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful species of waterfowl in the world.
The wood duck’s conservation is one of the most outstanding examples of private environmental initiative in American history. By installing well over 100,000 artificial nest houses and raising wood ducks in captivity, private citizens have played a key role in the conservation and recovery of this species.
Historically the wood duck is thought to have been the most abundant species of waterfowl east of the Mississippi River. However, around the turn of the century many people thought the wood duck was headed towards extinction. These fears were exaggerated but not entirely without merit. Wood duck populations had declined precipitously in some areas. Yet with the active involvement of private citizens and associations across the country, the wood duck made a spectacular recovery and is abundant once again.
Private efforts helped the wood duck specifically in two ways: by creating artificial nesting habitat and propagating them in captivity. The wood duck is a cavity-nesting species, and the older trees containing suitable cavities have become increasingly scarce. As its habitat was destroyed, the wood duck suffered. In response, private citizens installed nest boxes across the country. Nest boxes played a key role in restoring the wood duck to marginal habitat from which it had been largely extirpated and to core habitat where populations had declined. There were also significant efforts to raise wood ducks captively and then release them to the wild. The wood duck is now the second most common species of waterfowl in hunter’s bags east of the Mississippi River. Private efforts to conserve the wood duck are evidence of the strong tradition of American conservation.