Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother Duck and Babies

It was like an outbreak of Wood Ducks one morning on the Patuxent River. Birds do not take long to reach adult size and it may be that, although they appear full size, these are a brood of chicks from the most recent nesting cycle. I love the illustrative quality of this photo. It almost does not look photographic. The lighting just happened to be perfect too.

Wood Duck chicks are precocious and are fully feathered and ready-to-go right out of the box. They leave the nest within about a day after hatching. Perhaps you have seen a video of Wood Duck chicks leaving a nest. It is pretty awesome because the nest is a often a cavity in a tree that can be as much as sixty feet in the air. To leave the nest, they simply jump and kind of parachute down. I'm sure if you "google" youtube and "wood duck," you will find a video or two.

The nest is usually within an half-a-mile of water. On the river, I see mother ducks and their chicks coming out of the marsh in the early morning, so I know they have spent the night there away from raccoons and other predatory threats. Despite this type of protective behavior, mortality rates for chicks is very high.

Wood Duck pairs may produce a second clutch in a season. Females are known to do something called 'egg dumping.' Females will visit other Wood Duck nests, lay an egg and leave them to be raised by the other female. This is especially true when they cannot find a nest of their own.

Some Wood Ducks may be migratory, but most seem to stay in the region over winter. Ducklings cannot fly for about two months after hatching. The female stays with them until they are able to survive on their own.

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