Boldly patterned and brightly colored, the Wood Duck is a beautiful and distinctive bird, similar in appearance to its Chinese cousin, the Mandarin Duck. Wood Ducks are members of a group within the duck family (Anatidae) known as the “perching ducks”; while not closely related to one another, members of this family, unlike most ducks, perch and nest high in trees. This preference for elevated nest sites has the advantage of protecting young ducks from predators. However, it provides a challenge for ducklings, who leave the nest the day after hatching and are unable to fly. They use their sharp claws–another trait unusual among ducks–to climb out of the nest cavity, then jump, sometimes up to 65 feet, to the earth below! The day-old ducks are so light, however, that the fall doesn’t injure them. Hunted nearly to extinction by the end of the 19th century, legal protection and conservation efforts made the recovery of the species an early and dramatic success story in the history of American wildlife management.
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