On a cool morning in March, I joined fellow Master Naturalist, Edsel Taylor, at his bottomland forest property in Ridgeville, adjacent to Four Holes Swamp.
For almost two decades, he’s nurtured the local Wood Duck population by maintaining his blackwater property in its natural state and providing nest boxes for these colorful waterfowl. Not only does he maintain the boxes, but he keeps detailed records of how many eggs are laid in each brood, hatching success, and documents predation. I had the pleasure of assisting him while we checked the nest boxes on this Spring morning.
While we motored around the property to reach 38 out of his 40 nest boxes, I learned so much about Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa). Not only are they one of the only local duck species that produces two broods a year, but they will even lay eggs in the nests of other females if the nest boxes are too close together. Interestingly, the female lays one egg per day until the full clutch (around 10-16 eggs) is laid, then she begins incubating the nest. During incubation, the female lines the nest with down feathers that she plucks from her breast. Many of the nests we counted that day were covered in a blanket of down.
After about a month of incubation, the chicks hatch fully feathered and almost immediately climb out of the nest and drop to the ground. Following their mother, they proceed to the water to learn the duck life. Although we didn’t see any chicks that day, Edsel had already seen a family making their way to the water a few days earlier. This was one of the earliest times (mid-March) that he could remember seeing ducklings out and about.
In the end, we had found 28 active nest boxes and counted a total of 412 eggs. That’s an average of 14.7 eggs per nest box. This was one of his highest counts for mid-March. Needless to say, I can’t wait to find out how the hatching success turns out. The day was like a visit back into the Master Naturalist class, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!