I always hate to see fall and winter go. As lovely as spring is, the hot sticky summer is not far behind. And yet I remember loving summer as a kid when school got out, and we lived in swimsuits and spent our evenings chasing fireflies.
But late winter and early spring are when the wood ducks nest on our pond. My husband David put a nesting box (just the right specifications) barely in view of the kitchen window. We clean it out every year and fill it with cedar shavings, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the outlandishly colored males trailing their gently colored ladies, hoping to be the chosen one.
Once they mate, she spends an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to get into the box; sometimes standing on the roof and trying to climb in upside down; sometimes hanging at the opening. Once she realizes the runway principle of flying from at least 40 feet out, she begins laying an egg a day for 8-10 days. Then comes the hard part, sitting on them for 30 days, only leaving for short times to feed in the swamp, then back on duty. When she flies off, she calls to her mate with a sharp lilting “who-week” to follow her. When she is in residence, the male sails around underneath the box, patiently guarding his family.
On the 31st day, we notice the female circling around the box looking upward. I call into the office and tell my staff I will be late coming in that day. The babies stand at the opening momentarily and jump to her, falling like dandelion fluff. They immediately imprint on their mother and follow her wherever she goes while the rest take the plunge. Somehow she can count and leads them single file, in circles until everyone hatches. The mother swims to the far bank, with all in tow, climbs and crosses the dam, and heads down the spillway to the safety of the swamp.
With the loss of the hardwood forests and the growth of the Georgia pine monoculture, there is little natural nesting for these creatures. Since we choose to move into their habitat, it only seems fair to help preserve theirs. What a privilege it is to live amongst them, if only for a short time.