Thursday, March 10, 2011

Call of the Wild

Let me introduce you to a couple of our most engaging and permanent (though wild)  residents out here JOTOLR.  This is Mr...........

and Mrs.......

Wood Duck

And, I confess, these are not my photos but from Wikipedia.  Our Wood Ducks are shy.  I've tried on many an occasion to photograph these wily birds, but they've always been one step (wing) ahead of me, as they are wary, on constant guard, and very good at issuing their warning cry when the smallest twig-snap causes them to lift off the pond and whistle off into the brush. 

But they always come back.  That's because we have an ideal Wood Duck habitat when it comes to nesting and feeding sites.  First, here are a few descriptive facts about the wood duck:

"The Wood Duck is a medium-sized perching duck. A typical adult is from 47 to 54 cm (19 to 21 in) in length with a wingspan of between 66 to 73 cm (26 to 29 in). This is about threequarters of the length of an adult Mallard. It shares its genes with the Asian Mandarin Duck  The adult male has distinctive multicolored iridescent plumage and red eyes,with a distinctive white flare down the neck. The female, less colorful, has a white eye-ring and a whitish throat. Both adults have crested heads. When swimming, Wood Ducks bob their head back and forth in a jerking motion, which makes them easy to spot.  The male's call is a rising whistle, "jeeeeee"; the females utter a drawn-out, rising squeal, "oo-eek," when flushed, and a sharp "cr-r-ek, cr-e-ek" for an alarm call.

Their breeding habitat is wooded swamps, shallow lakes, marshes or ponds, and creeks in eastern North America, the west coast of the United States and western Mexico. They usually nest in cavities in trees close to water, although they will take advantage of nesting boxes in wetland locations if available. Unlike most other ducks, the Wood Duck has sharp claws for perching in trees and can, in southern regions, produce two broods in a single season—the only North American duck that can do so.
Females typically lay between 7 and 15 white-tan eggs that incubate for an average of 30 days.   However, if nesting boxes are placed too close together, females may lay eggs in the nests of their neighbors, which may lead to nests which may contain as many as 40 eggs and unsuccessful incubation, a behavior known as "nest dumping".

These birds feed by dabbling or walking on land. They mainly eat berries, acorns, and seeds, but also insects, making them omnivores." 

Besides the drake's dazzling color, probably the most amazing thing is when the ducklings, after hatching decide, as a group, to launch themselves-- literally-- into their new world.  Single file and one by one, they jump from their nest to the ground or to the water surface below the nest.  We have a big pine tree and the branches hang low over one of our small ponds.  The Wood Duck always builds a nest in that pine tree, and the ducklings have a perfect launch pad when nest bail-out takes place.

From Wikipedia, again:  "After hatching, the ducklings jump down from the nest tree and make their way to water. The mother calls them to her, but does not help them in any way. The ducklings may jump from heights of up to 88 metres (290 ft) without injury. They prefer nesting over water so the young have a soft landing, but will nest up to 140 m (150 yd) away from the shoreline. The day after they hatch, the young climb to the nest entrance and jump to the ground. The ducklings can swim and find their own food by this time."

When we were in Southeast Alaska, we watched a big family of Wood Duck youngsters jump from a tree into a waterfall and slide down the rocks on the thin layer of water, twirling and re-setting themselves as they were propelled by the water (not themselves) to quieter water at the bottom where the parents were waiting.  It was positively delightful watching the mostly yellow little fluff balls doing Nature's bidding according to a time frame they carry in their DNA.  


  1. Elora -- wood ducks are beautiful. How wonderful that you have a pair living on your land. -- barbara

  2. We used to have wood ducks in nesting boxes over the lake. What an amazing sight to see them flying full speed into those boxes. Once we were lucky enough to see the little ducklings take their first plunge from the box. You are blessed to have them.

  3. We have wood ducks in a box down by the lake. They are shy creatures and we seldom see them but even a glimpse is a treasure. blessings, marlene

  4. Lucky you! We have occasional pairs stopping by our pond for a day or two but they always move on, alas!

  5. They are gorgeous, aren't they, Barbara! I love their soft little whistles. I only mentioned two, but last fall, I counted 17 on our pond. They were very watchful and I was only able to get close enough that my binoculars were the tool of choice. They were poking through the silt at the edge of the pond, looking for worms, etc. Both males and females. You are so right, Marlene! Every glimpse is a jeweled treasure. NCMW, I would pay to see them fly full tilt into the box! Maybe build a wood-duck box, Vicki? Maybe they would stay!