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This Week’s Creature Feature: Wood Ducks

Named for their nesting habits, if they haven’t got an old tree, a ­nesting box will do
      Now is the time to start looking in trees for ducks. In early spring, wood ducks seek nesting spots. Unlike most other ducks, they look for tree cavities to lay a dozen or so eggs. It is fun to find a duck perched in a tree, as they look so out of place.  
      In the early 1900s, wood ducks were in a decline. They were heavily hunted, and logging of hardwood along waterways reduced nesting areas. In 1912, built nesting boxes were introduced, with an immediate increase in successful nesting.
      Today, the nesting boxes are common, and so are wood ducks.   
      They winter in the southern U.S. and return to Maryland about the same time as the osprey. A duck couple will return together, look for a nesting spot and court. The male will follow the female and be protective until she lays eggs. She lines the nest with very warm, soft down and keeps the eggs over 95 degrees. Sometimes, a second female will lay another clutch in with the original. The original mother will treat all the eggs as her own. If an egg is not viable, it is removed.
       As the embryos develop, they make small noises that are important to synchronize their development and to imprint with their mother as she answers them. The duck eggs hatch in about 30 days, with the entire clutch hatching within 24 hours. At less than one day old, the ducklings quickly follow each other jumping out of the nest. It does not matter how far they have to jump; they take that blind leap at the urging of their mother, then follow her to the water and immediately start eating. To stay safe, they will travel up to two and a half miles per day.
      The males are one of the most beautiful of North America’s birds, but they do very little to care for their offspring.
      Watch for the ducks in trees and their listen to their plaintive cry as they fly away.