Boldly Going Where Every Duck Must Go

 In early April of 2015, two large birds were observed in my woods.  At first I thought they were pheasants, but upon a closer look I saw it was a lovely wood duck (Aix sponsa) couple.  After investigating a few different options, the birds eventually ousted some squirrels from the upper-most of four holes in a tree on the western side of my driveway.

I had not expected them to nest on my property because, to the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any large bodies of water within walking distance.  Nevertheless, over the next 6 weeks, I would see the ducks head out into the early morning and bank back in at 4pm every evening. 

Using the special situation as an educational experience, my daughter and I watched videos of wood ducks fledging because it is both so cute and so extreme.  We learned that at one day old the babies boldly jump from the nest cavity to the ground, landing on the soft leaf-litter or in the water, depending on where the nest was made.  After fledging, the mother leads her brood to water where they learn the ways of wood duck life, never again to return to the nest as ducklings.

I admit that I entertained the idea of being able to see our ducklings fledge, but just as I’d originally had doubts that the ducks would nest in our woods at all, I also knew it was extremely unlikely we would actually see the babies.  But on Memorial Day, I was putting the kids into the car in anticipation of the local parade when I noticed the female duck flap down to the ground and commence to mill around and peep in a peculiar manner.  Curious, I stood and watched, hopeful that this was the long- awaited event.  To my disbelief, I heard the plunk of a little body landing in the crisp leaves, and a fluffy, brown and yellow duckling popped up.  Completely ecstatic, I unbuckled my daughter so she could watch also.  We witnessed 8 more wood ducks fledging in our own woods.  Once on the ground, all 10 milled around before heading north.  I did not want to stress them so we got back into the car and drove on to the parade, never to see them again.

Must be my woods weren’t prime wood duck nesting habitat as the squirrels happily moved back into their cavity and we haven’t spied the ducks since.  Even so, I am still grateful for my incredible luck at witnessing this peculiar event two years ago.  I’m also pretty amazed at my own powers of observation in even noticing as the little ducklings took the plunge to boldly go where every wood duck must.


By Gabrielle L. Wheeler