Jeff Green | Apr 07, 2005
Nature Reflections, April 7 2005
Nature ReflectionsApril 7 2005LAND O' LAKES NewsWeb Home
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My pond is freed of ice early because there is water being pumped into it from my heat pump, which keeps the water moving. On the morning of March 29, a sudden splash in the ice-free water was the landing of four Wood Ducks, three males and one female.
The Wood Duck must be one of the most beautiful ducks in the world. The male with his distinctively patterned head with red eye and red on the base of the bill, iridescent green and blue on his crest, bronze and purple iridescence on his greenish back, reddish-chestnut breast and patch on each side of the tail is readily recognized. While the female is much more muted in colouring, she too is a beautiful bird with bronzy reflections on her brownish back, broad eye-rings which trail toward the back, and also with a crest though this is not as pronounced as that of the male.
It was apparent that the female in my pond was being squired by one of the males. He kept closely by her side, except when he chased one of the other males away. Was it courtship or a cementing of an already-established pair bond that made him bob his head and raise his crest? Research has shown that pairs are usually established before the return from their winter abode, and that it is the female who leads the way back to a familiar area - though most often not with the same mate as the previous year!
So, its probably a new mate. He will, however, stay with his mate for a longer period than most other duck species. He does not take part in the incubation, but will remain in the area of the nest, sometimes flying past the nest hole with a soft call, to which the female will respond. Other times when the female leaves the nest to feed, she will call vociferously when landing on water, the male will hear and fly to her side.
The nest (it is her choice) is usually a natural cavity or large woodpecker hole in a tree. Though sometimes returning to the same nest she had used previously, if she needs to prospect for a new home when the mated pair first arrive, it is not unusual to see them land high in a tall tree, from which place the female will crane her neck looking for cavities. The one she chooses may be from 2 to 65 feet above the ground, though more commonly 30 feet or more.
Over the years there was considerable speculation about how the young leave the nest and reach water. A. C. Bent, considered to be one of the best sources of information on birds, in an 1923 publication, mentions that several writers had written about the female carrying the young to the water with her bill, between her feet, or on her back, though he did not necessarily agree with this. It is now generally accepted that the young, equipped with sharp claws and bill will respond to the mother ducks calls, spring upward toward the nest entrance (which may be as much as four feet above the nest), then cling to the nest wall, spring again, and will reach the opening, pause momentarily, then spring outward. Falling with their tiny wings outstretched, they may fall like feathers as much as 60 feet, landing on the water or bouncing on the ground below without injury.
If the nest is far from water, the mother will lead them to its safety, but the journey is fraught with danger, and sometimes none of the little brood survives. Once on water, the young are still in danger from snapping turtles, large fish or other predators. I once saw a mother leading only four young (probably some had already been lost) across Highway 7, but being closely followed by 2 crows, one of which seized one of the tiny ducklings. Nature can be cruel.
Observations: Steve Blight reports seeing a lone Sandhill Crane, calling loudly, flying over Armstrong Road on March 28. Vernon Crawford saw two swans flying over Sharbot Lake on March 29, and on the 29th, Shirley Peruniak saw a Turkey Vulture over Sharbot Lake. On March 30, Helm in Oconto had both a Brown-headed Cowbird and an Eastern Phoebe. In the past few days Peter Bell has seen a Belted Kingfisher, Wood and