A case of mistaken identity?

Yesterday, when I was out photographing the Swans at Vadnais Reservoir, I discovered I had photographed a Wood Duck among the Mallards.  Today I went back to get better photos of him.

Once again, the ducks and swans made a beeline to the shore near the path I was walking and congregated there for several minutes, waiting I suppose to see whether I had any treats for them.  I didn’t.  But that made it easier to pick out the one Wood Duck male among the hundreds of Mallards.

wood duck among mallards

Mr. Wood Duck seemed a little nervous, swimming constantly to stay in the middle of a group, and huddling up close to the female Mallards wherever it could.

wood duck among mallards

In fact, Woody stuck close to any Mallard female, swimming side by side and preening on shore when she did the same.

Stretching out his neck, you can see white feathers under his chin that are normally hidden.

Stretching out his neck, you can see white feathers under his chin that are normally hidden.

Male Mallards were not at all aggressive toward Woody, and tolerated his presence better than the females did.

Male Mallards were not at all aggressive toward Woody, and tolerated his presence better than the females did.

Handsome fellow, with his bright plumage of contrasting colors, red eye, and orange beak.  There is just a hint of iridescent blue on his back feathers.

Handsome fellow, with his bright plumage of contrasting colors, red eye, and orange beak. There is just a hint of iridescent blue on his back feathers.

I thought Wood Ducks overwintered far south of here, and in fact they usually do.  This duck either got lost, got lazy, or got lucky meeting up with a group of Mallards who hung out with swans in the only open water in this area.  The Christmas Bird Count data for last year indicates that only 1 Wood Duck was seen in extreme southeastern MN, including the Twin Cities.  Maybe it was this bird.

CBC data 2011-12 for wood duck

12 thoughts on “A case of mistaken identity?

    • Wood Ducks breed pretty far north up into western Canada, so maybe you can consult your local birding associations and get a list of sightings of Wood Ducks for your local area.

  1. It is interesting that he is so well accepted by the group. Do you think he could have joined them when he was young and now thinks he is a Mallard? He is a handsome fellow and one that I have seen as “domesticated or pet” in garden ponds in Europe.

    • I am puzzled by what this bird is doing. After watching him for some time, it almost seemed like he was courting the mallard females, which means he thinks he is a mallard and not a wood duck. On the other hand, I could have misinterpreted his actions, and he was actually just avoiding the bigger male mallards and using the females for protection? I can imagine all kinds of scenarios, like a wood duck egg fell out of a tree nest, rolled along the ground into a mallard nest, and the wood duckling grew up thinking it was a mallard. That explanation is really far-fetched!

  2. Wonderful shots of a really handsome guy. You raise some fascinating questions about this duck and how he manages to survive in the group of mallards. I am curious about how he finds food, because the only wood ducks that I have see have been in a very different habitat from most of the mallards.

    • Wood ducks and Mallards are both dabblers, making shallow dives or feeding off the surface. I think both species frequent streams, lakes, ponds, etc., but Wood Ducks are much more secretive and prefer habitat that has overhanging brush or trees, especially willows that enable them to hide from view. They immediately swim for cover when they spot or hear you, whereas Mallards will just swim out to the middle of the lake or stream to avoid being near you.

    • This was my first time at getting close to this bird. Previously I have used the maximum zoom capability of my camera to get not-very-good photos of this gorgeous bird.

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