Nature Notes – Wood ducks have returned to the area

The first migrating wood duck arrived on March 28 this year, and now many are seen on the open waters of temporary ponds, creeks and rivers, and open edges of lakes and ponds. This is a good time to put up one or more wood duck nesting boxes in a yard or area, even if the spot chosen is a block or two from a stream, pond or lake. Since migrating wood ducks are still arriving the third week of April, it’s still OK to get a nesting box up that late.
As to numbers of nesting boxes to put up, I have a friend who has 40 wood duck nesting boxes on or close to their half-acre yard on Bass Creek in Brooklyn Park. About 90 percent are occupied each year.
Three or four wood duck houses can be put on one large tree as long as they face in different directions and are at different heights. The ideal height is 12 to 15 feet up on a tree or pole, with the entrance facing out into an open area. Compass direction doesn’t matter. Nesting boxes on poles over water should be about 6 feet above surface.
Being cavity nesters, wood ducks often use old woodpecker holes. Watching a duck fly into a nest box or a hole in a tree, or perched high on a branch, or seeing day-old young jump from a height of up to 50 feet to the ground or water to follow their mother can be enlightening experiences.
Wood ducks winter from Missouri south to the Gulf states and into Mexico. Around 1900, due to over-hunting and habitat destruction, this splendid species was almost wiped out. Protective laws ended the slaughter in time, and now the wood duck is doing well due to nest box programs and habitat conservation.
The gentile wood duck is regarded as one of the most beautiful birds. It’s always a thrill to see a pair floating contentedly on a spring pond.
The male has a green head and crest patterned with white and black, red eyes, a rusty chest and whitish belly; the female is a brown dabbling duck with a broad white eye-ring. Their food consists of nuts and other seeds, fruit, plus aquatic plants and animals, including small fish.
Eggs of wood ducks are found in a nest of wood chips (put some new wood chips in nesting boxes each year after cleaning them out) and down in a cavity. Only the female incubates the 10 to 15 eggs. Incubation period is about 27 to 30 days. Sometimes eggs will be laid in a neighboring female’s nest, resulting in some clutches having an excess of 20 eggs. This is called egg dumping.

What’s happening outdoors now?
We wait for more warmth and greening but change comes gradually. The fuzzy silver-gray male pussy willow catkins have appeared and twigs can be cut and brought indoors for a touch of spring.
Common snowdrops and crocuses have begun blooming in gardens. Sugarbush operators tell of good to excellent sap runs, and high quality maple syrup. More eastern chipmunks, 13-lined ground squirrels and woodchucks are out and about after spending the winter in underground burrows.
Among the bird species arriving at this time are white pelicans, great egrets, red-breasted mergansers, song sparrows, eastern phoebes and tree swallows.

On April 10 a year ago
The temperature ranged from 30 to 39 degrees on this overcast day. We had a spring snowstorm, and one on the 11th too, with a total of about 8 inches of wet heavy snow for the two days.
Dark-eyed juncos were the most numerous of the birdfeeder birds. It was good to hear the red-winged blackbirds trilling and Canada geese honking in the wetlands, and to hear and see flocks of migrating tundra swans overhead.

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