Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wood Ducks

Wood Duck pair swimming, the female leading the male, on the Potomac today.
      Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are among the most beautiful ducks in North America. Although some spend the whole winter around here, most continue to migrate farther South, particularly when the water freezes or when the weather is unfavorable, as it has been this season. This is the time of year they find their way back into our area and seek nesting boxes or tree cavities to raise their young. Lack of nesting sites is the main thing that limits their numbers in many places. They may sometimes try to nest twice in a year (the only native duck to normally do so). If they do not find a suitable cavity to nest in, they may even dump their eggs into another female's nest.
     Wood ducks feed on a variety of things, from insects to duckweed. I've even seen a flock of 30 or so descend onto a cut corn field as the sun set, a beautiful sight to behold. Their favorite food definitely are acorns however. They have proportionally the largest eyes of any of our ducks, perhaps aiding them to see in dark woods or even at night, as they search for food or danger.
     Hens lay 10-15 eggs on average, in a tree cavity or nest box. These hatch in about 4 weeks and the fluffy young then use their clawed feet to climb to the cavity entrance before jumping to the ground or water below, regardless of the height. I've been lucky enough to see this happen twice and it is quite remarkable, as they bounce off the ground or make small splashes in the water.
     The second part of their scientific name "sponsa" refers to a "beautiful bride." Frankly, I think both the hen and drake make a handsome couple as they give their haunting call in the woods or along our rivers, searching for a place to raise their young.

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