Nature: The beautiful and secretive wood duck



How nice it is to hear some bird songs when I step outside these days. Anyone as old as I may remember the cacophony of bird songs we could hear in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70’s! It was a glorious sound, but in recent years as was predicted in the book Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, the spring bird chorus is greatly diminished because we have fewer birds for all sorts of reasons. 

I have some recordings of birds singing at dawn in Westchester, N.Y. that were made in the 50s and 60s and they are outstanding. I’m happy now to hear a few local birds and our arrivals from the tropics. 

My small pond is free of ice, so I’m watching for wood ducks. These very colorful and beautiful ducks just blend right in with dark water and surrounding vegetation. Seen up close they are hard to describe with all their beautiful feathers. These lovely ducks are secretive, but numbers of them nest here on Mount Desert Island. The Witch Hole Ponds are good places to look for them as well as any secluded woodland pond. The male is very colorful, and his mate is beautiful but subdued in color. I have seen them in the beaver pond near Eagle Lake Road. Stand quietly at the roadside near the pond and scan the water with your binoculars. Aunt Betty’s Pond would be another good place. Remember that they are quiet and secretive. This lovely duck nests in a hole in a tree or in special box put up for it in the shallow water. Guardians of Somes Pond have been successful in getting them to nest there in the swampy and secluded section. I remember being in the shallow end of the pond a few years ago where from our kayak we would have vegetation close by on both sides of the waterway. We were looking at a wood duck box that had been put up for them when out of the box came a wood duck that flew off.! 

When living in Katonah, N.Y. in Westchester County we had a small sanctuary, and one year some wood ducks took up living in a box for them on a telephone pole clearly visible a short distance from our house. From my kitchen window I could see them coming and going. Fortunately, we were watching it the one day the babies left the nest. The two parents were on the ground and calling to them and slowly the baby ducks jumped into view at the entrance hole. One at a time, urged on their parents, the baby wood ducks jumped from the hole and floated down to the ground unharmed. It was probably a scary experience, for the last to take the leap had a lot of encouraging. Finally, with all babies safely on the ground the parents led them to our pond through the vegetation and they learned how to be proper wood ducks. There was no hesitation going into the water. 

national game warden friend of ours told us that even without parents, for some reason; to guide them to life on a pond they have a 50 percent chance of survival. 

At this time of March watch for rusty blackbirds to arrive. Someday your yard may be full of the glossy and black birds. You might also see them wading at the edge of water, for it has some unusual habits. It does feed in shallow water like a sandpiper on its black legs. While in the water if feeds on such things as aquatic larvaeinsects, small fish and tiny tadpoles. These birds travel in noisy flocks which will attract your attention. They make a brief appearance here in late March and early April on their way to Canada and Alaska.  

The common grackle, another large, blackish bird with a longish tail and glossy feather shows a bit of color as he feeds on the new spring grass. His voice is like a squeaking gate! The sound is a bit raucous to human ears, but it must be a love song to ears of the females. The grackles feathers are highly glossy and sparkle with colors in the sunlight. Watch for them from March through October here on the Island. Look for grackles especially around ponds and beaver flowages. They might also occupy a nesting box put up for wood ducks. 

Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742. 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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