This spring has been kind of a blur, and I cannot remember if I told you about the wood ducks!
That, up there, is a wood duck.
Early one morning in April, I heard a wicked loud flapping sound outside my bedroom window. When I looked out, this freaky red-eyed creature was looking at me… from. my. tree.
As far as I knew, duck-ish things – even funky looking clown duck-ish things – do not hang out in trees.
So off to Google I went (right after nearly tumbling downstairs to grab my camera and big giant lens and heading outside to get a few more shots of the zombie duck (this thing could not ever pass as a chicken)).
Here are a couple of those shots:
Wikipedia, told me that this freaky duck is called a wood duck and that this particular wood duck was a male. Wood ducks even have claws (yep, CLAWS!) which help them hang on to the trees so they don’t fall off. I never saw one fall off of a tree, so this could be true.
Wood ducks like to nest in the cavities of trees (who have not been to the dentist recently).
And guess what our trees have? Yep! Cavities.
So I was hoping, big time, that Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck would choose one of the cavities in our trees to build a nest and have puny wood duck babies. Only there was a thing.
Our tree cavities are very high up in the trees. Like, the lowest tree cavity is about twelve feet off the ground, and the rest are at least twenty feet off the ground.
I found out that, apparently, twenty feet is like ‘psssht’ to a wood duck.
Wood ducklings, when they are about a day old, leap out of their tree from as much as 60 feet above the ground!
No I am not kidding!
Here is a video of merganser ducklings (they also nest in tree cavities) doing jump-from-the-tree thing. It’s from PBS Nature. I linked to that video because the merganser ducklings are jumping to the ground (like ours would, if we were lucky enough to have a nest in our tree) and I could only find videos of wood ducks jumping into water in Mississippi (which you can see here).
I watched both videos several times and they did a really good job with the camera angles. You can’t even see the little guys putting on their little teeny capes or holding onto even one very small umbrella. They are very brave, these ducklings.
Anyway, back to Maine.
I saw Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck for about a week, and hoped and hoped they would nest in one of our trees, but I never saw them go into one of the holes. After that, every week or so, I might see them fly by, or even land in one of the trees, but it was clear to me that they chose another apartment somewhere else. Maybe a furnished unit.
But then, about two weeks ago, we were outside planting something and we saw two ducks fly in a big arc around us, and then over our heads. One duck flew right by the trees in our front yard but the otherduck made like a missile and flew right into a very small hole, very high up in one of our trees!
She didn’t even slow down at all.
I had visions of her beak stuck in the opposite side of the tree and her not even being able to quack or peep for help because… well, because her beak was stuck in the inside of our tree!
No idea how she did that.
And we saw her do it a few more times in the days after that, so we assumed she had a nest in there and had just used all kinds of surreptitiousness when she created it. We, and our neighbors, would stop by the bottom of the tree sometimes to see if we could hear anything but I am telling you, the U.S. intelligence community could learn something from how stealthy these ducks could be (wood duck trade craft is a thing).
People were telling me to put a whole bunch of leaves on the ground beneath the nest in preparation for Duckling Jump Day, but I had no idea when Duckling Jump Day would be. Also, I figured Mrs. Duck had considered the whole jumping thing when she chose her nest, but what did I know? I was just hoping that these particular babies would be very bouncy.
Also, come on, I was never going to see Jump Day because it would probably take all of five minutes and happen under the cover of pre-dawn light and then they’d all waddle away. I mean, I could wish to see babies, I supposed…
Then yesterday morning happened.
I was filling my front yard bird feeder at about 8:30 a.m. and heard a flapping and turned to see Mrs. Wood Duck on the ground and I thought, “Hey. I’ve never seen her on the ground. I should go get my camera…”
And then, ‘peep peep peep…”, from behind the tree came a whole heap of babies.
It was Jump Day and the last one must have just jumped!
Mrs. Wood Duck took one look at me and was a bit startled, so she told the little ones to snap to it and follow her.
I had no time to gather my wits about me and take good pics, but this is what was happening (though it was less blurry in real life):
The little one who was first in line was a riot.
I counted 14 babies in all and they headed right across the street and into the grasses and gardens.
I was really worried because it was clear that Mrs. Duck wasn’t expecting to see me when she landed on the ground. I feared that she would have led her babies along a different path if I weren’t out there filling the bird feeder.
It seemed to me that walking across the street toward the salt water wouldn’t have been her first choice, but that’s where she headed. And, when I was walking around on that side of the street a couple of hours later, a lone duck took off toward the water. It was too far away for me to see what kind of duck it was, but my brain said it could have been her and oh no, so that added to my worries.
What if she got all spooked and went the wrong way?
What if she got freaked out again and left her babies?
What if they were all scattered around and couldn’t find her and she didn’t come back?
What if what if what if what if?
Late in the afternoon of yesterday, I quietly walked the gardens and could not see nor hear any evidence of wood ducks or ducklings.
This morning, I got up at about 5:30 a.m. and headed to the pond down the street, thinking that is the closest fresh water, and where I would go if I were a wood duck.
The pond was like glass, not a duck or a frog or a turtle involved in any early morning mischief or fitness program lap swimming.
I picked up my camera, fitted with its long lens, and used it to scan the far side of the still and quiet pond.
I used my dial to zoom in and sure enough…
That is Mr. Wood Duck right there.
But I’d read that the Dads don’t have anything to do with the raising of the ducklings.
I was about to leave when I saw him flutter over to the right and land near something else that might have been moving…
Oh wait, let me zoom in for you…
That’s Mrs. Wood Duck and her babies (a bunch were behind her and in the tall grass so you can’t see them all in the pic).
I was so excited!
And even though they were all the way across the pond (probably 250-300 feet away from me), I backed away quietly.
This morning wasn’t about a great photo.
It was all about hope…
The hope that a new family arrived safely to a beautiful little pond a little way down the road from where the mama duck asked her fourteen, day-old ducklings to trust her… and leap twenty feet from a warm nest onto the seemingly inadequate cushion of green grass below.
They did it.
They actually made it.
If I could have, I would have fist-bumped Nature.
I settled for smiling all the way home.
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