Wood ducks make ideal choice for birdwatching

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wood ducks

Every winter brings a renewed interest in birdwatching in our house. My favorite has always been the cardinals. The brilliant red feathers of the male are easily spotted while they rest on branches or munch on bird seed. The females’ color is more subtle with only a hint of red in their plumage, but their bright beak usually gives away their hiding spot. 

My mom was an avid birdwatcher. After her passing, several friends reminded me of the saying, “When a cardinal appears in your yard, it’s a visitor from heaven.” 

It is a warm and comforting thought. I already was fond of the species, and the saying added extra consolation. 

Summer story

This past summer changed my affinity toward red birds. It’s quite a long story that has reached “tall tale” status in the storytelling realm. To sum it up succinctly, somebody drove into our garage door. It wasn’t a little love tap; the driver, “came in hot.” 

The collision broke the main support and the door itself along with the opener, rendering our garage useless for several months. We had to park in the driveway while we waited for supplies to arrive. 

Our beloved cardinals were quite confused about the parking arrangement. We noticed them hovering near the side-view mirrors. Then we realized they were doing more than hovering, they were attacking their images in the mirrors. They developed tunnel vision regarding their mirror images. 

It was only the males; the females were perched in the trees shaking their heads at the obscure behavior. Daily, the cardinals would wage war in our driveway. It was amusing, but also very messy. As they battled at death’s door with their image, they also left droppings down the sides of the cars. 

One warm day, my husband parked in the shade under a tree far from the driveway. A cardinal found his vehicle, flew in the slightly opened windows and attacked the image in the rearview mirror. All the fighting in the heat of the day exhausted the bird. It couldn’t find its way out of the window. 

It was nearing defeat and death when we found it and pulled it out. Droppings were outside and inside the vehicle. After all the drama, I couldn’t look at the cardinals the same way. They look peaceful at the feeder, but I remember their relentless antics. I had to choose a new feathered friend to brighten up my winter woes. I am on a break with cardinals! 

New friends

My daily walk along the creek provided the answer. Several pairs of wood ducks have been making their home on the peaceful waterway. Growing up, I had never seen wood ducks, only mallards. On the farm, the environment is a very suitable habitat. 

At first sight, I was surprised by their feathers. On the male, I noticed bold markings of white and black on his body and iridescent green feathers on his head. I also noted the prominent crest at the back of its head. Chestnut brown feathers cover the breast with darker feathers in the wing and a showy speculum area with dark blue feathers. The female is much more muted to blend in with the surroundings. 

In addition to streams like the one I frequently see them in, wood ducks prefer swamps and marshes along with small lakes. They like wetlands with cattails and trees for nesting. Late winter is the time of year wood ducks start to pair up before breeding in the spring. A pair of wood ducks will build a nest in a cavity of a tree. 

After a population decline in the 19th century, wood ducks are no longer endangered. However, habitat loss and deforestation greatly affect ducks in the wild. If a pair cannot find a suitable cavity in a tree, they will use a nesting box near water. 

Females typically lay 15 eggs in a clutch. Surprisingly, if a female cannot find a nesting area, she will lay her eggs in an existing nest, adding to the eggs that are already there. 

The ducklings are precocial, meaning they can swim and find food on their own immediately after hatching. With the use of claws on the ends of their webbed feet and a special tooth in their beak, also used for cracking open the shell, they can climb up to the opening from the nest inside the tree. Then, they jump from the tree opening at a great height to reach their mother in the water. Even though they can live independently, they stay close to their parents.

Mostly, I love their peaceful demeanor as they meander down the stream or fly toward an oak tree. They leave my car alone and aren’t arrogant enough to fight with their mirror image. 

From bumper cars to birdwatching, there is never a dull moment. As for my new garage door, it’s far better than the old one. I should come up with a few other things to put in my driveway for the anonymous driver to destroy and replace.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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