Thursday, June 7, 2018

All About Wood Ducks

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time local photographer and birder.

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

The Prodigal Duckling
This might be as close as I get to a classic photo of a female Wood Duck and her new ducklings. However, it is not what we usually see when watching for Wood Ducks and monitoring their nest sites. 
By the way, there are many interesting tidbits about Wood Ducks in these earlier posts:
Note: The second up-close photo of a female Wood Duck's eye in the Beauty Bias post was taken near the same area where these ducklings and their mother were photographed. Their eye markings sure look remarkably similar. I wonder if they might be the same bird?
Monitoring Wood Duck boxes in the spring is a dual purpose endeavor. We look for any sign that the females ducks are utilizing the nest boxes and we also watch to make sure non-native creatures, like European Starlings, have not usurped the nest sites. Earlier this week, I was watching Box #9 along the shore of Nest Egg Island in Duck Bay. 
Wood Ducks are shy and often feed in the shadows along the shore. Females, with their subtle shades of coloring, can be especially challenging to spot. Initially, I did not see the ducklings or their mother. However, I did notice a dark reflection moving swiftly to the north. I glanced up just in time to watch a crow abandon flight. The crow fell in a fluttering corkscrew toward the ducklings. 
No doubt the crow had young to feed and the little ducklings looked like easy targets. The female Wood Duck immediately propelled herself into harm's way. The crow had second thoughts and settled behind the clump of grass on the right. The sudden attempt to hide fooled no one. 
The four tiny yellow reflections on the left are ducklings. Their mother is slightly to their right, almost invisible against the shore. No doubt she is watching the crow with one eye and her ducklings with the other. 
When the crow came over the grass and made a second attempt, the young ducklings race toward their mother, while she lowers her head and counterattacks.
The crow takes to the air, while the mother duck prepares her next defensive maneuver.
To my surprise, more ducklings appear. The duckling reinforcements on the far left side of the photo, are swimming towards their mother and siblings.
As the two halves of her family reunite, I suspect the mother felt a bit of relief.
However, in an instant the crow was back, strutting along the shore and eyeing the growing number of opportunities. The mother duck charged again.
The crow retired to the far side of the grass clump to reconsider its options.
The female lead her young through the lily pads and away from the crow. One little duckling began to fall behind.
As the mother moves out onto the open water only eight of her nine ducklings are close by. The average size of a Wood Duck brood can vary quite a bit. Birdweb suggests an average clutch of 9 to 14 eggs, while All About Birds says, six to sixteen eggs. Last week, we saw a mother who had only 5 ducklings, all of which were similar in size to these young birds.
If you happen to spot Wood Duck ducklings around Union Bay I would love to know the location and the number of ducklings seen. ( From what I have read, the females often lead their young to a new location soon after hatching. So young ducklings seen close to a particular Wood Duck box are especially important sightings.
When the mother slows down the young ducklings bunch up close behind her. They must have realized the danger and felt the need to be close. Somehow, the mother must be aware that one duckling is lagging behind. I wonder if Wood Ducks can count? 
Her patience pays off. Perhaps, this carefree little bird stopped for an extra morsel of food. For Wood Duck ducklings or humans, sometimes it is the small seemly inconsequential choices we make which ultimately decide our fate.
This time the little duckling lucks out and makes it back to Mom. Although, if the mother duck gives her young names she would probably be wise to think of this one as, 'Short-timer.' In contrast, I am amazed how the other eight ducklings were able to crowd so closely that only three are partially visible in this photo.
When the mother moves to welcome the prodigal duckling, the tightly-packed flotilla of apprehensive siblings is revealed.
With all nine once again under her protection, the mother waves her wings above their heads.
This looks almost exactly like the behavior of a female duck immediately after mating. I wonder if we will ever prove, or disprove, whether this wing-flapping behavior is an expression of pride or simply a means to straighten her flight feathers and prepare her wings for future use.
The mother turns her back on the crow and the distant shore, and proceeds on toward the shelter of Foster Island. 
It is interesting to note that the eyestripe on Wood Duck ducklings essentially stops at the eye. 
This is in direct contrast to these far more common Mallard ducklings. Later, when we start seeing Gadwall ducklings, you may notice that their eye stripes are similar to Mallards. I guess this just proves that Wood Duck ducklings are special.
In a moment, the ducklings are nearly perfectly aligned in single file. I wonder why this arrangement is safer for traveling ducklings compared to just crowding up as close as possible to their mother. By the way did you count the ducklings? Once again there appears to be only eight. Where is Short-timer?

No comments: