Friday, May 16, 2014

Getting our Feet Wet with Wood Ducks!

Post contributed by Ben from Conservation Corps of Minnesota Youth Outdoors crew #1:

Preparing wood duck houses for
the nesting season
Last Friday because of my leaky waders, I was able to quite literally, “get my feet wet” working with the wood duck houses at Lake Como. There are six small wooden houses filled with cedar bedding (like you find in a gerbil cage) just off shore all along Lake Como that are utilized by wood ducks (Aix sponsa) for nesting and laying eggs during the breeding season. The crew and I had the task to get into the water and clean the houses out and prepare them for the upcoming egg laying season. Some ducks got a head start on us though, for we found two houses already filled with 7+ eggs and one with a surprised mama duck!

Working with these houses got me thinking about how cool and unique wood ducks are in the waterfowl world. The common name alone, “Wood Duck” gives you a clue to one interesting aspect of the bird. The wood duck has a special relationship with wood. Wood ducks are the only North American member of the “Perching Duck” group, meaning a duck that is equipped to readily perch in a tree because of the strong claws they have on their feet to help them climb in trees. Another unique characteristic of the wood duck is that the females lay their eggs high up in tree cavities (newly hatched ducklings may jump from over 200 feet up without injury) or when natural tree cavities are scarce, they utilize man made houses like the ones at Lake Como!

Here are a couple other interesting nesting facts about the wood duck. Because ducklings are raised in the water and not the nest, wood ducks prefer to nest close to water but they may lay their eggs over a mile away from the nearest water source. Wood ducks are also the only North American duck that regularly produce two broods (group of bird offspring) in one year. Finally, females that do not have a nesting site may practice, “nest dumping”, where they lay their eggs in a mature female’s established nesting site with the hopes that her eggs will be taken care of. This is usually a last resort because this behavior usually results in a lower success rate of the new hatchlings.

The eggs that we found in the houses should hatch, at the latest, in June (wood duck eggs incubate for around 30 days), so be on the lookout for some ducklings next time you are walking, biking or relaxing by Lake Como!

We also LOVE this video of wood duck ducklings leaving the nest...enjoy!