Taking a Leap: More on Wood Ducks

This week’s blog is on the beautiful Wood duck, Aix sponsa, which means “waterfowl in a bridal dress.” Last week, we retrieved our video cameras that have been positioned at one of our Wood duck boxes. The footage they captured was precious. The last several weeks have passed with momma Wood duck sitting patiently on her bed of white down she extracted from her own chest, with those eggs incubating under her. She would warily go out to eat, checking carefully for predators. The incubation time for Wood duck babies is about twenty-eight to thirty-seven days, so we have been waiting several weeks for the hatching of these ducklings! An adult male Wood duck is vividly marked with a striped face and a head dressed in iridescent green and purple. It has a white throat, a smooth swept back crest, and a chestnut-colored chest. The female is mottled brown with a teardrop-shaped white eyepatch and a short dark crest.

The camera footage also shows the parent Wood ducks hanging out under the box and eating a plant called Alisma triviale, water plantain. This is a common plant out in our freshwater marsh, and it appears to be a good source of food not only for the Wood ducks, but also the more common Mallard ducks.

On one of the videos, the momma Wood duck appears to be listening for signs of hatchlings inside the box or maybe for any struggling going on between the ducklings! When the right moment comes, about twenty-four hours after all the ducklings have hatched, she calls to them from the ground. The calls are recorded on our video. The box is about nine feet off the ground and one by one the hatchlings climb up the box, helped by little claws on their feet, and teeter on the edge of the hole before leaping out into the unknown. They do this in response to their mother’s calls. Last year, we posted a video of the ducklings leaping from the box. This time around we decided to capture the actual “plop” of the duckling on the ground. It is thrilling to see them land safely and be reassured by their mom! There was a total of nine babies that successfully “took the leap” out into the void and plop into a small pool about a quarter mile up Outlet creek. The entire process took about forty-five minutes for all the babies to get out and get ready to go. Soon after the last duckling escaped the box the family swam off into the marsh, making their way to their next home on the water. It is a privilege to get to see this very intimate point in the lives of these beautiful ducks.