Welcome, Kossacks, to this week's installment of The Left Wing. After a week of trolls and troll diaries (and I guess I would consider myself a "Troll Hunter" so I was pretty busy) I need a good bird diary.
As promised last week, this one is about wood ducks.
I'm feeling a little better about my writing style, so this one will contain some attempts at humour. Many of those attempts will probably fail. Just ignore those ones.
More below the fold :: ::
First, a little info on the species. Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are found over most of the U.S. except for the central Great Plains and the Rockies. Their habitat is marshland, ponds, swamps, and shallow lakes. Wood ducks are cavity nesters, so they will live in nest boxes. The nest usually contains 6-15 eggs, but sometimes multiple females will "dump" eggs into one nest. These egg dumps can contain up to 40 eggs, and often result in improperly incubated eggs. The young chicks are hatched fully covered in down. Since the female can't bring food to the nest, the chicks must leave the nest cavity within a day. They literally jump out of the nest, and plop onto the ground. They can survive a fall of up to 290 feet without injury. They then follow their mother to the water. The females will eventually return to the area they hatched to lay their own eggs.
You may remember from my last diary that while the owl box was up, a pair of ducks checked out the box for a nesting spot. Unfortunately, when the female tried to go into the box she couldn't fit through the hole, though not for a lack of trying (Heh). Eventually she gave up and the pair flew off together.
Now that we knew we had wood ducks, and that they would nest in boxes, dad got to work building a nest box specifically for the ducks. We put the box up on a tall pole, and waited. And Waited. If you've ever tried to attract a specific bird, you'll know it almost never works as planned. During the 3 or 4 years we've had that box up, it has had snakes, ants, wasps, and, recently, squirrels.
Instead of telling the full story, I'll write what we did for each case.
Snakes: Take the box apart, scrub it with soap and water (and maybe a bleach solution). Actually, get rid of the first box. It's not worth the trouble. Just build a new one. Snakes apparently have a distinct smell that birds hate. That smell is
very very hard impossible to get out of things.
Ants: Fire. Lots and lots of fire. We opened the box, and built a contained fire inside to kill the ants. With all the larvae inside, it sounded like a bowl of rice krispies when you pour milk into it. Afterward, we had to completely rebuild the box with new wood.
Wasps: Just open the box and take out the wasp nest. Simple, if you don't mind getting stung.
Squirrels: We never tried to get rid of the squirrels. They use the box in winter, while the ducks use it in spring and sometimes summer. Plus, the squirrels are sort of cute when they curl up inside the box.
Anyways, once we put up the nest box, the wood ducks appeared right on cue. They laid and hatched their eggs, then left.
The next year, after the snake used the box, we put a camera in so we could
spy on its occupants without a warrant monitor the inside. When the ducks showed up, we rushed out to connect the camera. There must have been some sort of popping noise or light coming on as the camera turned on, because the female got spooked and left. She came back, though, and laid about a dozen eggs. She sat on them until they hatched. It was calming just to watch her tend to her clutch of eggs with such dedication. Every evening, she carefully covered up all the eggs, and flew off with her mate. They went off and ate together, then they flew beck to the box. The female flies directly into the nest hole while the male flies straight past. The female hits the back wall of the box pretty hard, because there's a big muddy stain right where she hits. She then uncovers the eggs and sits down on them for the night. We never got to see those chicks though, because we were on holiday when they hatched.
The next year, we had two females dumping eggs into the nest. When they hatched we got to watch them, too.
Year 3, there were two separate clutches of eggs. The female that came the previous two years sat on her brood in spring, and a second female, the one that dumped eggs the last year, used the nest in early summer.
This year, we got to watch the ducklings leave the nest. I came downstairs and saw all but two of the ducklings were gone. I called everybody in to watch. We missed the second to last one, but we did get to watch the last chick as it jumped through the opening and plopped onto the ground.
If you want to build a wood duck nest box of your own, here's a link to instructions from the USGS. I would recommend putting a small camera (like a webcam or a security video camera, make sure it has infrared or night vision) inside.
The Wood Ducks on top of our Bluebird house
I'm really looking forward to them coming back next year.
Feel free to share your bird/critter pics and stories. No pic is too ordinary.
UPDATE: This will be a regular series, posted Sunday afternoons/evenings around 4:30 to 5:00 PM.
UPDATE X2: The next one will probably be a photodiary. This one involved quite a bit of research, so next week's will be much lighter.