Taking a closer look at the wood duck

  • <p>JAMES HIRTLE PHOTO</p><p>This beautiful wood duck was spotted in Sunnybrook March 10.</p>

On March 10, I was finally able to find the wood duck that has been tending in Sunnybrook. The only two ducks that I know of that can match the beauty of this bird are the mandarin duck and the harlequin duck.

The wood duck is a local breeder here in Nova Scotia, but hard to come by in the winter. They should be returning soon in migration. There are two separate populations of wood ducks in North America.

The first nests in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. This population winters in California, the Rocky Mountains and in the Great Basin States. The second population nests from Manitoba, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, and also in Texas, the Gulf Coast, Florida and Cuba. They winter in Florida, Cuba, Jamaica and Bermuda.

The wood duck is 42.5 to 50 cm long with a wingspread of 70 to 75 cm. The male has a dark, iridescent head with a slicked-back crest. The eyes are orange-red, the head is striped with white and the bill is a variegated pattern of red, yellow, black and white. The throat is white with a breast of rich burgundy. The back is dark and iridescent and the belly is white. The wings are dark as is the tail.

The female has a greyish head with a crest. She has a white eye-ring which highlights the dark brown eyes. Her bill is black and she has a white throat. Her back is brown as are the breast and flanks. The brownish underparts are streaked with white.

The wood duck feeds 90 per cent on plant food. They are fond of duck weed, bald cypress cones and galls, seeds and tubers of sedges, grasses, smartweeds, water chinquapin, pondweeds and their seeds, wild rice, seeds of water lilies, water elm and they sometimes wander into the woods for acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, grapes, and berries. They eat more fruits and nuts than any other American duck.

During the breeding season these ducks nest in holes in trees. The young, once ready to leave the nest, jump out of the tree hole to the ground from vast heights.

I was quite concerned about the low numbers of common eiders being seen this winter. I've since learned that, in the spring of 2022 with the outbreak of avian influenza, some of the largest eider colonies in the maritimes were hit hard with the eider populations trending downwards.

Five to 15 per cent of nesting females died from the disease. This resulted in lower numbers of birds and a lower nesting success with fewer young going back into the population. Biologists believe that numbers will be low for this species for many years to come as a result.

The world snapshot for the Great Backyard Bird Count 2023 is as follows: 7538 species of birds were identified with 202 countries participating. E-Bird checklists submitted numbered 390,652, with 372,905 Merlin Bird Ids and 151,479 photos. Global participants were estimated at 555,291. It was a record breaking year.

Sandy Marshall of Lunenburg reported an American crow with an accent. The sound the crow is making I've heard before and I believe it is associated with courtship. Speaking of crows, Janice Kenefick mentioned that the American crow seems to be the number one deterrent to roaming cats and hawks. Janice has watched American crows dive bomb and chase away these predators. She is delighted to see birds coming back to Ritcey Cove since the straight pipes were converted to septic tanks.

Canada geese have returned for the first time in years. Hundreds of American black ducks are also present. Roberta MacDonald reported the return of a red-winged blackbird at Oakland. Anne MacDonald of Cook's Brook in Halifax County recently had more than 100 of these birds so we should be seeing more here in our area very soon. Roberta also saw a merlin and a bald eagle in her area.

Barbara McLean took a walk along the Lunenburg Front Harbour on March 8 and reported a pair of long-tailed ducks, a pair of greater scaup and a pair of belted kingfishers. On March 12, Eric Mills saw a tufted duck, two greater scaup and four lesser scaup at the Back Harbour in Lunenburg.

Song sparrows and northern cardinals have become very vocal, as have the black-capped chickadees with their territorial calls. I also had a northern flicker calling on territory. American woodcocks are starting to show up.

Ray W. spotted a Eurasian green-winged teal at Rainbow Haven on March 11.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com.

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