Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Beautiful Woodie

These warm misty days bring out the incredibly beautiful iridescent color of the wood duck's plumage.

The summer duck, as it is sometimes called, never leaves our area the year 'round. About the middle of this century we began to see a decline in the woodie's numbers. One reason for its diminishing numbers was thought to be the development of wetlands and swampy areas, causing hollow trees and stumps to disappear. A cement front lawn is a big "no no" to a wood duck. Now man is helping the housing shortage by placing nesting boxes throughout the wood duck's breeding area.

If you've never seen either the male or female of this species, and see the female first, you will exclaim her beauty. And she is beautiful in her own right. Her small crest when displayed, sits atop a grayish-green, olive-brown head. Neck and sides are streaked with yellowish-brown. Her breast is spotted with brown. And a lady she is, for she wears a white pearl in the middle of her upper bill. She has brownish-red eyes and wears yellow slippers.

The male's crested head is a metallic green with shadings of blue and purple and white. Back feathers are a glossy green-purple, the breast a purplish-chestnut flecked with darts of white. The belly and throat patch are white. Chestnut, buffs, reds, blues, greens, purples, black and white, with many tones and shades, make up the indescribable oriental feather pattern of this pond dweller. His eyes are blood-red, his short bill black and orange-red.

No wonder he's called the Beau Brummel of the quacking world. Roger Tory Peterson, the father of bird watching, said "descriptive words fail to describe this bird's plumage."

Both male and female are from 18 to 21 inches in length, with a wingspan of 24 inches. Weighing only one and a half pounds, this gorgeous little duck is preening and courting and nesting in local moss-hung swamp lands and sun-splashed ponds that he calls home. Always using a cavity in a tree or a stump, he is one of the few ducks that doesn't nest on the ground. And, he is a loner you might say, for you will most likely find him in ponds with only other wood ducks. He likes his privacy.

The cavity used for nesting is often one chopped out by woodpeckers or in natural hollows created by large rotting limbs. Most nesting cavities are from five to 50 feet from the ground. Usually, the nest is placed near a stream, but not always.

After the mother finds a hollow to her liking, she adds down plucked from her own body to line the nest. Into this cozy bed she lays from 10 to 15 buffy-white eggs. Incubation takes around four weeks.

How do the ducklings, when only a day old, get to the ground or water from so high in the air? They jump! Our ancestors were of the opinion the mother woodie carried the youngsters to the ground or to the pond on her back. This, by observation and photography, has been proven wrong. The mother jumps first and then calls her children to come out to play.

Each youngster perches in the doorway and without hesitation jumps when the mother calls. It free-falls into the air and bounces on the swampy soil then waddle in single file behind their mother to the pond. If they jump into water, they bob like a cork and then paddle toward their mother.

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