Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Welcome, Wood Ducks!

So thrilled to welcome Wood Ducks to White’s Wetland! Now as strange as that may sound, because Wood Ducks are native to North America and we are definitely in their breeding range, the fact is that we have never been honoured with their presence before. So to have three Wood Duck pairs as “regulars” on the White’s Wetland pond is indeed a privilege. I tend to agree with many North American naturalists who say that the Wood Duck has to be North America’s most beautiful waterfowl species. The male Wood Duck is so ornately and highly coloured that it is hard to lower the binoculars and look elsewhere.

Our ducks, like so many others, arrived here in April from their wintering grounds in the southern United States. But their presence here, on our pond, tells us something very important about the health of the White’s Wetland ecosystem. Their choice of this wetland tells us that they are finding the habitat they need to live, nest and survive. That means a freshwater wetland, a riparian habitat and plenty of the vegetative material they love. Aquatic plants such as algae, duckweeds, sedges, grasses and pondweeds make up the adult diet along with aquatic insects, while ducklings (come June!) will require a high protein diet; they’ll eat dragonflies, bugs, beetles, and spiders during the first few weeks of life. According to the Hinterland Who’s Who site, “High populations of these small creatures are essential in habitats where the young will hatch and develop.”

Wood ducks feed primarily in shallow water areas, but they’ll also forage on the forest floor for seeds, acorns and nuts. Some ducks, it has been noted, will field forage for corn. Like their name suggests, Wood Ducks are just as much at home in the woods as they are on the water. Wood Ducks are perching ducks; they nest in trees. Left to their own devices, they’ll choose holes in hollow trunks or similar cavities. However, nesting boxes can be created for them, and they have proven to be beneficial for duckling survival rates, if constructed properly and placed in well-chosen locations.

Wood Ducks were hunted to the brink. (What else is new?) But Wood Duck populations have recovered and continue to recover. Thank goodness, because to lose this beautiful, colourful, peaceable bird would be tragic.

However, the largest threat to their future continues to be…yes, you guessed it, the continued loss of habitat. Landowners everywhere, both sides of the border, can encourage Wood Duck populations by protecting and restoring floodplains, wetlands, rivers, streams and woods on their property.

Acorns and other forest mast are important fall and winter foods. So plant oaks if you are reforesting, or choose hickory and black gum.

Native wild grass mixes are available at seed stores (check out the Ontario Seed Catalogue – they have the best seeds!).

Other plant species suggestions can be found in this leaflet:

And if you want to learn how to build nesting boxes for them, visit The Wood Duck Society.

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