Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wood Duck Nest

 (Wood Duck via spotting scope, Buford Trout Hatchery)
Most people post on GABO-L for what they have seen or birded at hot spots with friends, occasionally, rare bird alert which normally get a lot of attention. Recently this particular GABO post caught my interest. Ann Steward from Rome Georgia posted something interesting regarding a Wood Duck nest in her backyard pond on Feb 16 (see her post here). In the post, she mentioned that she checked her #1 Wood Duck box on 2/14 and there were 10 eggs in it and then checked again three days later, she found out there were 16 eggs in it. When I was reading her post, I was wondering why she said #1 box..."does that mean she has more than one Wood Duck nesting Box?", I pondered! As I kept reading her follow-up posts, in one of her posts she mentioned during past years, she had hatched few hundreds of Wood Ducks. Did she say "few hundreds ..."? Oh, yes!

(Ann's box #1)
Wood Ducks are not like other waterfowl such as domesticated ducks, Mallards or Canada Geese. They are shy and don't easily come  around human. Years ago, when I first saw a male Wood Duck, I managed somehow to get a picture through someone's spotting scope (see male Wood Duck picture above). Later, a friend of mine from New York told me a fascinating encounter about  how he and a Wood Duck (my friend named him. Bruce ...click link to see pictures and short clip of Bruce, the "Central Park Samurai") became best friends. Bruce, the Wood Duck, is never a duck to him, he became his friend and his family! Does Ann also have a story or perhaps, many stories to tell us? I decided to pay Ann a visit. (<--  Pic to the right, box #1)

Ann was a city girl and had a successful career and raised a happy family. She acquired this land 30 years ago and  later she found her heart was in the countryside so she moved her family here. Her son, Steven, was actually the person got her interested in birding. About 13 years ago, they noticed a pair Wood Duck coming to her backyard pond. She decided to put up one Wood Duck nesting box right next to the dock. As soon as this newly installed box was erected with new nesting material put in, Wood Ducks called it home and successfully raised one brood. Ann installed few more boxes around her pond as lake water gone lower. Breeding season for Wood Duck normally starts in the late January and she told me this year, these ducks did not start laying until February. Female shows up at around 7 in the morning and she will fly off after laying one egg and will not start sitting until she finishes laying. Ann and her grand daughter count the eggs when they see female fly away.

 (Female Wood Duck pulls her down feathers to make the nest)

Ann told me to get into her jon boat first to sit till and she came in then I handed her the paddle. As we paddling towards the box #1, I asked Ann if she thinks female is sitting inside. She did not think so. I was so excited and held my camera very tight and did not know what to expect in the next few minutes. As we slowly approached  her most populated Wood Duck box, Ann told me to hold down to the post so we could take a very good look at eggs and also count them. I always see these nesting boxes during my field trips but I have never operated one. A bouncing heart with a wildly exuberant anticipation, I slowly and carefully opened the top. At that very moment,a female like a small rocket, zoomed out of the box and pooped all over us. OMG! We both laughed so hard almost cried. Poor Ann, bless her heart. I was sure she got scared too much because she was facing the nesting box opening and thank God, this duck did not crash onto her. With all this "poo shower" got on us, Ann kept her cool and seriously, she was and is really a cool gal!

(Wood Duck eggs ...like a small sized chicken eggs)

As this box revealed in front of my eyes, I saw a lot of down feathers mixed with nesting material Ann put in and a clutch of eggs were covered under those feathers. Ann said female will pull the most precious feathers she has, the down feathers, to make a warm and lovely feather bed for her babies. Over joyed, I counted, counted and counted again...18..no, 21..no no...22.  I was blurred a little bit and not sure if I was correct. She asked me amusingly "are you sure?" .."I am not so sure" I said and I counted again and finally said "yeah, now I am sure there are 22 eggs in here. OMG!..you will have 22 ducklings this year".  I picked one egg up and  held it in my palm and it was so warm and I was so touched with such a small life inside and could not wait to see it hatch. Now it was Ann's term to count them. She also counted 22.  Parasitic egg-laying is common in waterfowl especially in Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Common Goldeneyes and Wood Ducks. So now Ann is very sure that she has more than one females laying her. Female will not start sitting until she finishes laying. It takes about 28 to 32 days to fully hatch. She said the most she got was 30 eggs in one box and they, amazingly, all hatched! We paddled around her lake and checked all her other 4 boxes and we found out box #3 seemed to have some activity because a female made a cup with her breast. I waited and hided behind a big tree and just wanted to see if female would return. Ann said female will only come back if we leave. They are very shy and not used to have human around. We then decided to bird around Arrowhead WMA, a birding hotspot near Ann's home.

(Ann holds a new life.....Wood Duck's egg is just like a very small sized chicken egg)

I would not be able to tell you guys this amazing Wood Duck nesting story without thanking Ann enough for her warm welcome and hospitality. When we paddled around her pond, she showed me something very cool...strains of frog eggs (see picture to the right) floating along her lake! When I told her my two Green Tree Frogs live on my wall for the past four years,  she gave me a jar of frog eggs as a gift. And since I have never raised frog of any kind, we have to wait and see what species they are! As new life of 22 ducklings (or more) is set to start soon, Wood Duck story continues..... Happy Birding! -- Linda 

3 comments:

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  1. Wow!!! wut a lovely story ..cant wait the eggs to hatched.lol........ Amazing~~~~ I hope bruce got 30 eggs ^^

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  2. Thanks Macro for your kind words! Please be patient...can you wait for another 28 days ...and you might see ducklings ^^

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  3. When I was reading her post, I was wondering

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