Posts Tagged ‘Wood Duck’


When I was making supper, a movement outside the window caught my eye. I stopped and took a closer look and was startled to see a duck walking up and down on the newly fallen tree trunk in the yard. I rushed to get my camera and took a few photos of her. Unfortunately, the photographs, shot through the window screen, aren’t very clear, but I was pleased to get a record.

It’s a female Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). Wood Ducks are so named because they prefer flooded forests or swamps and nest in trees. Until 1800, Wood Ducks were among the most abundant waterfowl in eastern North America. The arrival of colonists changed all that and the slaughter of unregulated hunting, deforestation, and wetland drainage decimated the population, reducing numbers to the verge of extinction. Legal protection, enacted in 1916, reversed the trend and Wood Ducks began a long, slow recovery. Now, nearly 100 years later, Wood Ducks are once again common.


It was clear that the duck was checking out the log as a possible nesting site. I was charmed to think of her sharp eyes catching sight of the newly fallen log as she and her mate cruised the little river that flows by the house. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a suitable spot, so close to the house and driveway. No privacy! She quickly came to this conclusion and returned to her exceedingly handsome mate, who was waiting patiently on the river while she did her househunting. Maybe next year, I’ll try to have a nest box ready.


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Some of the returning Canada Geese settle on the little river for a break on the journey north. You can see them along the length of the river where the road parallels its meandering course. Many form flotillas on the water, while others pad about the adjacent farm pastures.

Ducks have begun to arrive too. I saw a pair of Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) a few days ago, but they didn’t stick around to have their picture taken. They are small ducks and the male has a conspicuous white wedge at the back of his dark head, which makes him easy to identify. More common are the Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). There are often several pairs to be seen.

The Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are my favorites. Until last spring, I hadn’t seen any in the wild. The males, with their elegant colouring, are certainly amongst the most beautiful of ducks.

None of the ducks seem to stay into the nesting season, but move on to better habitat. I would like to try mounting a Wood Duck nesting box, a project for next year maybe, although I’m not sure their is sufficient appropriate habitat by the river to allow a pair to raise a family there.

It’s nice to see the ducks, but on Monday I saw a real favorite: the first Great Blue Heron (Ardia herodias) of the year! Apparently he wasn’t as happy to see me as I was to see him, and took off before I was able to get more than one ghostly photograph. But that’s okay. Unlike the ducks, the heron is probably here to stay.

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The trail now follows the edge of the river, and a sign about dragonflies and damselflies, the odonates, suggests that there will be lots to see in the summer months. As noted in the sign, odonates are threatened, as are many, many species, by the loss of suitable habitat. The polluting of waterways and draining of wetlands take a huge toll on wildlife. Two-thirds of Ontario’s wetlands have been lost or severely damaged and many surviving wetlands are threatened.

The highpoint of the hike, both literally and figuratively, was the marsh lookout. Sturdily constructed, it offers a beautiful view out over the Tay river and marsh.

Even at this time of year, you can see signs of life, as tracks crisscross the ice surface. It is always wonderful to see a large marsh or swamp. Wetlands are vitally important, filtering out sediment and pollutants, cleaning the water we all depend on, and providing habitat for a wide range of plants and animals.

A sign on the lookout highlights Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) and Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis). Again, it isn’t clear whether these species nest at this location or they just hope they will! The Black Tern breeds mainly on the prairies of North America, but its range extends east into western Quebec. During breeding season, it uses freshwater marshes, but from October to April it winters by the sea, mostly on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Central and northern South America. The Least Bittern was considered abundant in large southern Ontario marshes a century ago. It’s decline has matched the destruction of its habitat as marshes are drained.

Jebb’s Creek, a tributary of the Tay that winds through the reserve, provides important spawning and nursery habitat for fish. With the mild weather, the ice had melted back and revealed some open water.

Other wetland residents who have suffered mightily for the sake of “progress” are Ontario’s turtles. There are eight species of turtles in Ontario. The Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) is the most common and widespread species. Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are still present in significant numbers but are vulnerable in some areas where populations were once stronger. The remaining 6 species (Blanding’s, Musk or Stinkpot, Map, Spotted, Spiny Softshell, and Wood) are all in trouble, listed as threatened or endangered. Threats to turtles include the loss of wetland habitat, road mortality, pollution, collection as pets, and predation. These pressures may soon overwhelm these important wetland ecosystem members.

Amongst the cattails of the creek and wetland, several nest boxes for Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) could be seen. Wood ducks are thought by many to be the most beautiful native ducks in North America. [For some lovely photos of a wood duck pair, visit Evening Stroll at Xenogere.] They nest in the cavities of trees close to water, but a good cavity can be hard to find. Conservationists have sought to help the wood duck population by providing nesting boxes in wetlands. Some of the Reserve’s boxes were the standard wooden boxes, but there was also a plastic style, which I haven’t seen before. In checking on them via the internet, I found that they have pros and cons. The plastic boxes are sturdy and can be made from recycled plastic, but it seems that at least one study has found that the ducks are traditionalists. This study by H.W. Heusmann and T. Early suggests that wooden nest boxes are preferred, but the study is dated 1988, and perhaps newer plastic boxes have a more appealing design.

Farther along the trail, we noticed these wood chips on the snow, causing us to look up for the source.

A branch has been stripped of its bark. At first, we thought it was the work of a porcupine, but on closer examination of the branch with her binoculars, Birdgirl concluded a woodpecker was the culprit.

The last section of the trail meanders along the edge of open pastureland. The field was dotted with milkweed. I was surprised that many of the pods still contained their downy seed packages.

Back at the parking lot, we looked over the Reserve’s management initiatives as outlined on their visitor information sign. The Reserve was established in 1972 and their comments on encouraging the Canada geese population suggest this sign was written some time ago. These days, you are more likely to hear of efforts to discourage the now-numerous geese.

In all, it was a pleasant, easy hike for a winter’s afternoon. It will be nice to revisit the trail in the spring when the wetland sleepers reawaken.

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Two Ducks in a Tree


On Sunday, RailGuy looked out the kitchen window and was surprised to see two ducks, sitting in the tree by the river. Ducks? In a tree? Yes, when they’re Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa). These medium-sized ducks, a bit smaller than the more common Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), are considered by many to be the most beautiful of the North American ducks. They are classed as perching ducks and nest in cavities in trees near water. (They are not alone in this. In Canada, Common Goldeneyes, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers also nest in tree cavities.) Wood Duck breeding habitat includes swamps and ponds in wooded areas. Several pairs have been cruising the river north of the house and they are perhaps attracted by some of the large trees along the river bank.

Wood Ducks have been popular game birds and were heavily hunted in the 19th century, resulting in severely depressed population numbers by 1900. After a prohibition of hunting in the first half of the 20th century, numbers rebounded and are considered relatively secure now. Conservation efforts have included the protection of habitat and the provision of nest boxes. Although Wood Ducks are not uncommon, I hadn’t seen one in the wild until moving to Willow House. RailGuy kindly supplied the above photograph. The photo below is by Richard Bartz (Munich) found at Wikipedia.


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