- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant throughout the state but most common in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota; regular in winter where there is open water. The Wood Duck was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Wood Duck’s primary breeding range extends across the eastern United States and the southern regions of eastern Canada; to the west a nearly disjunct population occurs from the Pacific Northwest south through California. Some of the highest breeding densities occur in portions of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas and along the lower Mississippi River valley (Figure 1).
A game species, the Wood Duck is assigned a Moderate Continental Priority by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and a Continental Concern Score of 6/20 by Partners in Flight.
A short-distance migrant that winters father south in the central and southeastern United States.
A dabbling duck, Wood Ducks feed on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, seeds, and fruits.
A cavity nester that selects large, mature trees in riparian habitats; also uses nest boxes.
One hundred years ago the future of the Wood Duck was in doubt, not only in Minnesota but throughout its North American breeding range. Indeed, its extinction seemed by many to be imminent. Like so many waterfowl, prior to the enactment of hunting regulations the birds were harvested year-round, severely depleting populations (Bellrose 1976). In addition, loss of cavity trees due to extensive logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s likely contributed to population declines (J. Lawrence, pers. comm.). In Minnesota, Roberts (1932) wrote that the species was formerly an abundant summer resident but “greatly reduced in numbers” by the early 1900s. Only 1 confirmed nesting record (nest with eggs) was reported from Grant County, while young broods (inferred nesting) were reported in just 5 counties: Aitkin, Clearwater, Hennepin, St. Louis, and Stearns.
When the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1918, the hunting season on Wood Ducks was immediately closed and remained so until 1941. The response was nearly immediate. Only 16 years later, when Roberts published his two-volume treatise on Minnesota birds, he was already witnessing a small increase in the number of nesting pairs throughout the state.
By the time Green and Janssen (1975) published an updated account of the species’ status, the Wood Duck had become the fourth most abundant nesting duck in the state (Lee et al. 1964). It was scarce, however, in the northeastern counties and was absent from the agricultural lands in the Red River valley and southwestern Minnesota.
A little more than 10 years later, Janssen (1987) reported the species was expanding its range both to the north and west, particularly in the Red River valley and southwestern Minnesota. Although it remained uncommon in the Arrowhead region, breeding had been confirmed in Lake and Cook Counties in the late 1970s.
Several years later, in a review of all confirmed nesting records since 1970, Hertzel and Janssen (1998) documented Wood Duck nesting records in all but 5 counties: Beltrami, Benton, Otter Tail, Steele, and Wilkin. Likewise, the Minnesota Biological Survey reported 618 breeding season Wood Duck locations during their statewide surveys, all widely distributed across the state (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, participants reported a total of 2,828 Wood Ducks records from 36.1% (1,738/4,821) of the atlas blocks that were surveyed and from 39.3% (918/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 762 (15.8%) atlas blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). Not only were the birds reported from every one of Minnesota’s 87 counties, breeding evidence was collected from all but 2 counties: Traverse and Red Lake in northwestern Minnesota. The density of reports in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and in the Brainerd region is largely a reflection of the number of atlas volunteers concentrated in these areas. Despite their statewide distribution, Wood Ducks remain least abundant in the most heavily cultivated regions of the Red River valley and in far north-central Minnesota.
The land suitability map for the species predicts that the most suitable Wood Duck habitat occurs across central Minnesota, from the Twin Cities metropolitan region northwest to the Hardwood Hills Subsection and south throughout southwest and south-central Minnesota (Figure 4). Although Wood Ducks are predicted to be sparse throughout the Red River valley and in the southeastern Blufflands Subsection, the rivers and streams in these regions still provide highly suitable habitat for this riparian species.
More than 100 years after many predicted the species’ demise, the Wood Duck not only has recovered to the point of reoccupying most of its original breeding range, but populations have also expanded north in Canada, west in the Central Plains, and south into Mexico (Hepp and Bellrose 2013). Atlas projects have documented the species’ statewide distribution in the nearby states of Wisconsin (Cutright et al. 2006), Michigan (Chartier et al. 2013), Iowa (Iowa Ornithologists’ Union 2017), and South Dakota (Drilling et al. 2016). Wood Ducks occur statewide in Ohio, but the state’s second atlas documented a decline in one region where agricultural activities have intensified (Rodewald et al. 2016). Ontario documented a 53% increase in the probability of observing Wood Ducks between their first atlas (1981–1985) and second atlas (2001–2005). Part of the increase was attributed to the large number of Wood Duck nest boxes that had recently been erected in the Northern Shield region of the province (Cadman et al. 2007).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.