Yes, Mother Goose did it, at least I’m going to believe she did. Mother Goose was gone from the osprey nest platform, but there were some brand new goslings in the pond at the base of the tower at Grass Lake. Somehow four little fluffy ducklings, looking recently hatched, may the ones that survived the plunge down to the pond and are now happily swimming around with their parents.
You wouldn’t know it, from the low temperatures, incessant cloudiness, and persistent drizzle, but yes, it’s spring, and a few brave flowers have shown up. And a few birds have successfully reproduced despite freezing temperatures. But quite a few birds have unfortunately been unsuccessful this year. One person reported seeing bluebird eggs frozen to the bottom of the nest box, due to extreme low temperatures and lack of insulative material with which to construct nests. I think we have gone beyond normal and are verging on an abnormally cold spring now. This summer is looking shorter and shorter. My peonies still haven’t gotten bigger than the size of a dime. OK, enough complaining. The winners of “it’s spring!” are:
Isn’t it a little late for this?
I found a mother Wood Duck and her two chicks swimming in a small creek near Medicine Lake in Plymouth a couple of days ago, and was surprised to see such young ducklings at this time of year.
Either this hen lost all of her first brood, which should have hatched six weeks ago (see Wood Duckling bonanza), and started over with a second brood, or she has been fooled by our weird summer heat into thinking she still has two months of summer left to bring off another brood. Although Wood Ducks do nest twice in the southern part of their range in the southeastern US, only one brood is usually produced by birds that breed in Minnesota.
Here’s the problem with trying to nest too late into the summer: 1) Wood Ducks incubate their eggs for 30 days; 2) then they tend their little ducklings, teaching them all the good stuff to eat, for another six to eight weeks; 3) at some point the female needs to regrow some her flight feathers so she can migrate away when the cold weather hits in September-October. So this bird is pushing the limit for completing her motherly duties and molting new feathers before the fall deadline. 4) Ducklings must gain enough body weight and complete their first entire body feather molt before migrating south. At this point, it will be October before they are completely grown and freshly feathered.
Timing is everything, and with unpredictable climate changes, making the wrong choice can be lethal.
“oh, I do hope my feathers turn out pretty”
Three days after I first discovered more than two dozen of them, there are only six Wood Duck chicks in the pond now. They seem bigger, but I’m sure they are still highly vulnerable to predation, even with a very alert parent on guard duty. I managed to sneak up on them again, using a lot of tree foliage and dead branches as a hide. When I first saw the ducklings, they were widely spread out in the pond, but a signal from mom when she saw me made them move over toward her immediately.
These are all of the ducklings that I saw, and the other hen was not on this pond, or the other two ponds. So, she may have lost all of her chicks and left.
This is mother Wood Duck’s attempt to hide her chicks. Now that I see how Wood Ducks use the vegetation alongside the pond, it looks like drooping branches of willow make ideal screens for protection, at least from bipedal observers. But when I circled around (quietly) behind this willow, the ducks had moved to the opposite side of the pond for a mid-morning nap and preen in the sun.
I’ll go back in a couple of days and see if any are left. I hope so. It would be nice to have Wood Ducks nesting here every year.
For some time now, I’ve tried to photograph the Wood Ducks that inhabit the ponds in the back yard. There were at least two pairs of them hanging out in the shallows and presumably nesting there. They always saw me coming and flew away long before I could set up my camera, and most of the time before I ever even saw them. I wasn’t motivated enough to build a blind to hide in, so I would just try to sneak up on them (never worked).
However, last evening when I wandered (very slowly and cautiously) down to the ponds I spied a mother Wood Duck and her brood swimming around seemingly unperturbed by my presence. The ducklings were tiny; they might have been only 1-2 days old.
The ducklings fanned out around her, and she swam so that she stayed in the middle of the crowd. When I got up from my knees to get a better look, mother duck got alarmed and moved her brood off to a safer and more distant location. The little ones immediately tucked in behind her and closed ranks to form a tight group on her tail.
On the other side of the pond, I found another group of youngsters accompanied by a second female. They seemed a bit bigger and perhaps hatched a day or two earlier. The ducklings were quite widely dispersed but some subtle movement or communication from mother duck caused them to scoot very quickly across the pond, as if they were walking on the water, and lineup near her.
The duckling on the far left of this photo is “scooting”, and he moved about 50 feet in a matter of seconds. I was twice as far from this group as I was from the other one, and in the dim light of almost 8 p.m., the camera can’t capture much detail.
Once she rounded up the brood, she too moved off into the weeds to hide, so that was the end of the photo session. It looks like each female has 12-14 chicks. I wonder how many of them will survive to adulthood. There are lots of predators in and around the pond: snapping turtles, foxes, raccoons, possums, dogs, and cats would all enjoy a tasty meal of duckling.
I’m not sure whether the male helps raise/protect the brood, and I didn’t see any males on the pond last night. But I have glimpsed them previously this spring when I scared them away. Click HERE to see Paul Sundberg’s beautiful photos of Wood Ducks taken earlier this spring on his pond in northern Minnesota.
Click HERE to read an earlier post about Wood Ducks in Backyard Biology (October 12, 2011).