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2017 Log

Four batches of baby wood ducks hatched in the two nest boxes in 2017. A Mallard also nested here and raised 10 ducklings. The logs from 2017 are below.
2017 Mallard nest: On March 31, 2017 a mallard hen started incubating 11 eggs in a nest that she made in the planter that is about 2 feet from our front door! Ten little mallard ducklings left with their mother on the morning of April 26th.
Follow this link for a copy of the daily log, pictures, and movies.
Thursday June 29, 2017
Today the East nest family returned to the creek behind our back yard. That's unusual because the current typically carries them downstream and we never see them again. But I'm sure it's the same family:
  • I have not seen any other young wood duck families around for the past weeks
  • there are 16 of them and they're small enough to be just two days old
  • I saw the hen take them up into the bank of the creek nearby yesterday
  • and the current is much slower today.
Here's a short (1 minute) video of them busily munching on the water plants in the creek.

And a couple of still images too. The white stuff in the pictures and the video is cottonwood cotton (fluffy seeds) that is getting caught on the water plants floating at the surface. I don't think the ducks were eating the seeds; they seemed to be nibbling on the plants.

Wednesday June 28, 2017

14 ducklings jumped from the west nest today.

16 ducklings jumped from the east nest today.

West nest: 14 ducklings, 3 unhatched eggs

If you missed seeing the ducks leave the West nest box this morning, so did everyone, I think. When Barbara and I checked at 6:30 and again at about 6:45 all was quiet. I went downstairs to get the outdoor camera ready and at 6:50 Barbara said "They're gone!" That was both a record-early departure time and an unusually speedy exit. They couldn't have gone very far in that short time so I put down the outdoor streaming camera, grabbed my regular camera, and went out into the rain to see if I could find them and get some pictures or video. They were there, down in the creek right behind our back yard and I got a still picture and some video too. As I recorded they stayed in the creek which was running fast after a night of rain so it wasn’t long until they were way down under the bridge at the end of our block.

There were 3 unhatched eggs and from that I'd say there were 14 ducklings, although in the pictures it's hard to count that many all at once.
East nest: 16 ducklings, 1 unhatched egg

I was ready with both the outdoor streaming camera and my regular camera (on a tripod indoors looking out through a window) for the ducklings leaving the East nest. The hen looked around several times and for several minutes each time before finally calling her ducklings at about 8:20. I got video of the ducklings jumping and the hen gathering them around and then leading them off, with some close-ups of the family working its way over a landscape timber.

As a bonus: A couple of hours later I was in our back yard and I heard her distinctive soft clucking and the ducklings peeping in response just downstream. I couldn't see them due to all of the lush growth along the creek so I got my camera and walked the street to the bridge that is two houses downstream from our house. I spotted them upstream of the bridge behind our neighbor's house and over the next several minutes I got some dramatic (dramatic if you care about baby ducks) video of them in the creek where the hen was trying to lead them all back upstream, toward our yard.
I've edited all of that photography into a 12 minute video that is now on YouTube. - (12 minutes)

What a run! 20 + 25 + 14 + 16 = 75 new wood ducks this spring!

There aren't any more pairs around, no other hens have been acting like they want a nest, and it's late in the season. So I think that does it for now and I'll probably take the cameras offline soon, ... until next year.


Tuesday June 27, 2017

Both nests are hatching today!

Things were quiet late last night but this morning there are ducklings in both nests.

Evening update:
I've weather-proofed the outdoor camera enough so that it should be OK during thunderstorms tomorrow. We'll see. It's pointed at the west nest and if they jump first I might be able to switch it over to the east one in time for their turn. On the other hand if the east ducklings go first then there won't be an outdoor camera on them. However I do have a movie camera indoors and should be able to get video of both to post later ... unless they go simultaneously - and, well, they've synced up on everything else so far!
Saturday June 24, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 17 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
  • West nest box eggs: 17 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
Any day soon now ... maybe tomorrow? Watching and waiting.
Sunday June 11, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 17 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
  • West nest box eggs: 17 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
Two days ago I checked both nests while the hens were out partying in the evening: it's still 17 and 17. Not much new is happening lately. The other ducks no longer are in the yard except occasionally and their attempts to enter the nests has stopped. We're looking forward to watching for hatching to begin.
Tuesday June 6, 2017
(If you've seen lots of ERRORs or failures to respond from the east camera, the problem is not on your end. The east camera has been disconnecting each day until I reset it, then it's OK for a while, until it does it again.)
Thursday June 1, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 17 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
  • West nest box eggs: 17 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
Many wood ducks and also a hooded merganser hen have been in the back yard and have tried to get into the nest boxes on recent mornings. We haven't seen one actually go in, but they'll sit on top of the nest box looking in hopefully, and they sometimes have flown into the opening and perched there for a moment. Some of them must have succeeded while the resident hens are out having breakfast because the egg counts have continued to go up and as far as I know, an incubating hen does not lay more eggs. Any eggs laid significantly after incubation began won't hatch on time with the others.
The 17 eggs in the west nest box.
Wood ducks on the roof of the nest box on Tuesday (taken through two layers of window glass in dim light - not the best quality). The hen would really like to go in but the one already in the nest won't allow it.
A hooded merganser hen was on our deck railing Tuesday morning. She flew down to the west nest box opening, stuck her head in but the incubating wood duck hen was in there and the merganser flew away. All of the 34 eggs look like wood ducks; I don't think the merganser has been successful in getting an egg into the nest.
Sunday May 28, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 14 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
  • West nest box eggs: 15 - Incubation started 5/27, hatching 6/23-28
Incubation began in both nests yesterday. The east nest duck flew away when I was mowing and at the same time the west nest duck was also away so I checked. Both ducks had spent all night in the nest and both sets of eggs were very warm, so the 28 to 32 day countdown begins. They might hatch on the same day!
Saturday May 27, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 12 (3 more than Thursday)
  • West nest box eggs: 11 or more, ...
... I could not count eggs in the west nest box this evening because a duck was in there. Start of incubation maybe?

And just as I wrote that at 8:30pm, a duck returned to the east house too. I turned on the night-time infrared lights in both nest boxes.
Thursday May 25, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 9 (2 more since Tuesday)
  • West nest box eggs: 11 (6 more since Tuesday!)
The ducks were very busy today. We saw at least 4 wood duck hens - at least 4 because at one time two were in the nest boxes and two were waiting, but it easily could have been more. As they arrived and left again it was impossible to tell. We should put name tags on them. However we have noticed that the west nest box is visited by one hen that has a very distinctive and unique multi-colored bill.

Two hens were together in the west nest for just a couple of minutes until the one that entered second left again due to some neck biting and shaking from the one that was already in there. We've often seen this competition this year but almost never have observed it in prior years. I think it must be partly due to too many ducks for the number of nest boxes in the area. The restructuring of the bank of Bassett Creek that occurred all along the creek last summer caused nesting sites to disappear. Some people took their nest boxes down to make way for the work and have not replaced them, some of them came down with trees that were removed, and also some trees that were removed undoubtedly had hollows used as nests.
One of the wood duck hens waiting to get into a nest box.
We also saw 2 hooded merganser hens, one on top of the west nest box while the other was down in the grass. Both of them tried to get in but backed off when they found a wood duck already in the nest box. So far none of the 20 eggs look like merganser eggs, I think they're all wood ducks.

Tuesday May 23, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 7 (3 more since Sunday)
  • West nest box eggs: 5 (1 more since Sunday)
Hens continue to visit the nest boxes to lay eggs so I'm sure we'll have another round of ducklings 5 or 6 weeks from now. They don't stay very long. The best time to see them is in the morning, typically between 7:00 and 9:00 is a good time.
This morning two hens peacefully shared the east nest box for a while, probably both laying eggs. Often when two are in there they will fight until one of them leaves.
Monday May 22, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 4
  • West nest box eggs: 4
There was a hen in each nest today when we looked at 8:10. The egg count above is from yesterday.
Friday May 19, 2017

More Eggs!

We have seen pairs of ducks in the yard and today saw a hen in the west nest box so I checked it. There were two eggs in that one today and the east nest has one more egg. Another round of ducklings could be on the way.

First round: March 19 to May 15, 2017

Sunday May 14, 2017

25 ducklings jumped from the west nest today.

There were 25 that left with their mother, one chick that hatched late and was too undeveloped to leave, and two unhatched eggs.

Updated May 15th ...

The hen took a while to decide to go this morning. Our neighbor's kids were running and playing on the other side of the creek and at the house next door there were grandkids visiting for Mother's Day. Those of you listening to the cameras heard the same talking and children yelling that the mother duck heard. That may have made her cautious, but eventually she decided that as a sophisticated urban duck, these were not threatening to her ducklings and she called for them to leave the nest.

It took a long time for all of them to leave. Often it's just a few minutes between starting to call and leading the ducklings away but this session took about 7 minutes with several instances of ducklings waiting a long time to commit to a jump ... and there were so many. I left all 7 minutes in the video rather than cutting it down because ... I don't know ... there's something about the pace that matters and you've got a fast-forward button and slider if you disagree. I got some nice video of the hen with those many ducklings, leading them away. All of them were last seen, still together, about a block away down the creek - you'll see that in the video at the end, followed by a slow-motion segment.
- YouTube video that shows the ducklings jumping from the nest box and the hen leading them away.

Also there is one more image (added 5/15): the third one below of the ducklings in the nest.
West nest:
On Saturday the ducklings started to hatch in the morning. The first absolutely clear indication was this egg.
Here's duckling number one with several eggs showing that his brothers and sisters are on the way.
There are 25 ducklings here somewhere - more than one layer!
Wednesday May 10, 2017

20 ducklings jumped from the east nest today.

East nest: The hen led her 20 ducklings away at about 8:45. There were 2 partially hatched eggs and 7 that did not hatch. (Sometimes people ask about what happens to the ducklings that don't leave the nest with the others ...)

- I've uploaded a YouTube video that shows the ducklings jumping from the nest box accompanied by our comments as we watched them.

... and after you've seen that one, try this!
(No ducklings were harmed in the making of this video.)

This was our first look at about 6:30am when the hen was out having breakfast. It's in gray rather than color because the infrared night lights were still on. We counted 10 in this screen shot but I think that in fact there were twice that many: another whole layer! (In the past I have seen them take many hours to get dried out, fluffed up, and become stronger and more active. I could be wrong about this but I think they need more time than just a couple of hours and thus any that hatched late this morning would not be ready to leave just a few hours later.)
This view shows a duckling on top of mama duck that is clearly not the same as the others. It is not a wood duck; it's a hooded merganser. See below in the log (search this page for "merganser") for more about how hooded mergansers and wood ducks sometimes lay eggs in each other's nests. One of the unhatched eggs was also a hooded merganser egg.
A later color view of the hen surrounded by ducklings. The hooded merganser is at the top center.
Close up showing the different facial appearance of the hooded merganser (top) and wood duck ducklings.
Tuesday May 9, 2017

East nest ducklings are hatching today!

  • East nest box eggs: 29 Incubation began 4/6 - 4/7. Hatched on 5/9
  • West nest box eggs: 27 Incubation began 4/8 - 4/12 hatching between 5/6 and 5/14
East nest: The eggs in the east nest box are hatching today. Tomorrow the ducklings will leave the nest by jumping from the entrance down to the ground. You can watch on both the camera inside the nest box and also a camera that is now showing the outside of the nest box. The hen usually waits until full daylight to call the ducklings to join her. The earliest that they have left in the past is about 7:30, the latest is 1:00.
Friday May 5, 2017
  • East nest box eggs: 29 Incubation began 4/6 - 4/7, hatching between 5/4 and 5/9
  • West nest box eggs: 27 Incubation began 4/8 - 4/12 hatching between 5/6 and 5/14
East nest: The hen in the east nest has been restless today: turning the eggs, standing, perching in the nest box door for many minutes, clucking. When she has moved around I've gotten a good look at all of the eggs - nothing hatching yet, but maybe tomorrow?
Tuesday May 2, 2017
Wood duck pairs are in our back yard every morning. When the nesting ducks have left in a week or so there could be another round of laying and more ducklings a month after that. This occurred in the east nest last year. But right now things are quiet in the nest boxes: lots of sitting and waiting
Wednesday April 26, 2017
Mallard: After resting for a while this morning the mallard mama duck jumped from the planter down to the front porch and began calling. Three of her ducklings obeyed and jumped down to join her. But the rest (7 of them) stayed up near the nest. Over the next hour she alternated between calling from the ground and from the porch below the planter, and then jumping up onto the planter and returning to the nest to be with the 7 ducklings. Meanwhile the three that had jumped down huddled together in a corner of the porch, occasionally trying to make the impossible 2 foot jump back up onto the planter to be with mom.

After an hour of this the hen finally settled into the nest over the 7 that were with her, pulling down in around herself to wait for a while. Maybe the ducklings that jumped out would have been OK but she had to choose between either keeping 7 of them comfortable while waiting or continuing to do something that just wasn't working. If it had been a nicer day I would have let things take their course over the next minutes or hours but it was a cold morning: just a few degrees above freezing. The mortality rate for ducklings in their first days is very high due to predators, getting separated from their family [last year we saw a little day-old duckling peeping loudly and being carried downstream with no other ducks anywhere in sight! Oh no!] and other things ... including hypothermia.

So we decided I should try to put the 3 back up onto the planter even if she was disturbed somewhat. She let me put the first one up, but then she flew down to the ground nearby calling in alarm. Her sudden wing beats when she left swept a couple ducklings off the planter and some of the others jumped in response to her calls now that I had added the incentive of getting away from a huge and scary creature. (The fall doesn't hurt them: they're all fluff but don't weigh very much so they land about as hard as a dropped cotton ball.) When the dust settled all but 3 ducklings were down so I picked up each of the last three and put them on the ground too.

The good news: she then led them all away and they were last seen peacefully moving off through the grass in the back yard toward the creek. Both she and the ducklings were nibbling on the wet grass.

I'll post some video later today or tomorrow.

Best wishes little ducks!
Tuesday April 25, 2017

Mallard ducklings have hatched!

Mallard: The mallard ducklings hatched overnight or late on Monday 4/24. They were so vigorous at 7:45 this morning that I was sure they would leave the nest today. However they stayed all day and have now settled in for the night. They should leave tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

7:38 AM
There are several fragments of eggshell around the mallard nest this morning. You can see one of them in the camera in the left foreground. I reached out and grabbed a piece when the hen was not looking and it was definitely a small piece of shell and membrane.

7:45 AM
Just saw some of the Mallard ducklings - they look ready and may leave the nest this morning!

12:20 PM
We didn't see any signs of hatching until early this morning but by then the ducklings were dry and fluffy and vigorous. So my best guess is they hatched in the late evening yesterday or overnight. When they hatch during the day they spend about 12 to 20 hours in the nest overnight and leave the next day. If they hatched overnight it could be late today when they leave. Or they could be on their way now, as I write this.

8:39 PM
The ducklings looked so vigorous this morning that I thought they were sure to leave today. But it is completely dark now and ducks are daytime critters that rely on their eyes to detect predators. Usually they won't leave in the gray of dawn but will wait until it is full daylight, which still could be quite early at this time of year.

(However once again this year I have noted that I really should limit my duck behavior predictions to statements such as "Oh, did you see that?" and "Now let's all watch and see if anything happens.")

Wednesday April 24, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 11   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 29   Incubation began 4/6 - 4/7, hatching between 5/4 and 5/9
  • West nest box eggs: 27   Incubation began 4/8 - 4/12 hatching between 5/6 and 5/14
Yesterday we waited until the ducks were out for supper then did a careful count for all three nests. This included removing some of the eggs in the wood duck nests since there are several layers. We put them back carefully when done and the ducks do not notice.

Mallard: We were surprised to find only 11 eggs, not 12. Earlier pictures also show 11 so I think I simply mis-counted once and then perpetuated that error.

The mallard ducklings should hatch this week sometime between Wednesday and Saturday. Like wood ducks, mallard ducklings stay in the nest only for one night getting dry, fluffy, strong and bouncy, and very hungry! Then they leave the nest on the morning of the day after they hatch. The mother duck does not feed her ducklings, either in the nest or thereafter. She only takes them to where the food is and they feed themselves. Once they leave the nest they do not return. They sleep under their mother's wings at whatever location she chooses each night, hidden in low brush on the bank of a lake or stream.
Photo taken on Tuesday 4/23
East nest: There are now 29 eggs in the east nest box. At the right on top is a picture of the eggs remaining in the nest after removing the top layer of 10 eggs. That's my hand at the top holding up the blanket of down. The second photo shows the 10 eggs that we temporarily removed in a bowl lined with a towel. Note the egg in the lower left of that picture which is clearly larger and whiter than the others: a hooded merganser egg. Also many of the eggs remaining in the top photo also look larger, rounder, and whiter than the others which are characteristics that distinguish merganser eggs from wood duck eggs. It's hard to be certain about all of them since wood duck eggs do have variation. Also the photo is exaggerating the size and color. But still, a lot of those could be merganser eggs.

When the ducklings hatch we should be able to tell them apart: these photos (found online) suggest that they should look different when looking down from the camera's view. I know that the dark eye-bar with the white above that outlines their little black caps is easy to see on the baby wood ducks and the merganser ducklings don't have that. Merganser duckling

Wood duck duckling

West nest: There are now 27 eggs in the west nest box. At the right are pictures of the eggs remaining in the nest after removing 5 of them to get a better count of those that are underneath. My guess is that all of these are wood duck eggs.

Wednesday April 12, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 21   Incubation began 4/6 - 4/7, hatching between 5/4 and 5/9
  • West nest box eggs: 22   Incubation began 4/8 - 4/12 hatching between 5/6 and 5/14
East nest: The duck in the east nest has been on the nest full time. Both yesterday and today another hen got in and they did their jousting battle for several minutes. In the encounter today the resident duck stayed down low on the nest and resisted all attempts to dislodge her while also exchanging neck-feather grabs and head shakes with the invading hen. The battles involve lots of motion and both hens vocalize continually but it doesn't ever look like they are actually injuring each other - it looks like a show of strength and a ritual battle for dominance.
West nest: The duck in the west nest finally spent a full day on the eggs today, left for only an hour or two this evening, and has now settled in for the night. But for the past 4 days she (or another duck ... I wish they wore name tags) has been on the nest only at night, sometimes. So I'm not sure how to count the incubation days in this case. Does timing start the first time the eggs are kept warm for 12 hours, but then are left to cool for the next 12, and then that repeats for several days? Do those count as accumulated half-days? Doesn't matter of course: they'll hatch when they're ready. But I expect that some of those added late may not hatch with the rest and there will be some unhatched eggs on the day they leave the nest.
This evening while the duck was out having supper I simply lifted the down blanket that covered the eggs and took a picture without moving them. Notice how she has arranged them in a nice bowl shape. There are 22 eggs now unless some are hidden underneath but I think they're all visible. Five new eggs were added in the past few days.

Monday April 10, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 21   Incubation began 4/6 - 4/7, hatching between 5/4 and 5/9
  • West nest box eggs: 17(or more?)   Incubation began 4/8 maybe?, hatching between 5/6 and 5/12
East nest: The duck in the east nest was there full-time last night and all of today. In the morning there were 5 pairs of ducks in the back yard and one of the hens was on the roof, hoping to get in. The resident duck fended her off several times and she never came in that I saw. Except for that it was a quiet and uneventful day for this duck ... one of many to come.
West nest: After staying for a day and a night, the west nest duck left sometime in the early morning today (the nest was empty when I first checked) and she stayed away all day, finally returning just as it got dark ... if it's the same duck - it probably is. During the day other hens came in and uncovered some eggs at least or more likely layed more eggs, because in the morning the nest was all covered and later two eggs were visible all afternoon. So I don't think this really counts as an incubation day; the eggs cooled off I'm sure. Interesting that this is similar to what the east nest duck did too: a full night and day of incubation, then a full day off. But anyway she's back tonight and we'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Sunday April 9, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 21   Incubation began 4/6 - 4/7, hatching between 5/4 and 5/9
  • West nest box eggs: 17   Incubation began 4/8, hatching between 5/6 and 5/12
Wood ducks: We counted the eggs this evening while both ducks were out feeding. The counts again went up by a lot. I expect that to stop soon now that both nests have a full-time occupant. The incubating hen is all done laying eggs so any new eggs will be provided by other hens while the resident hen is out of the nest. These new eggs, if any, also are not likely to hatch with the others.
East nest: 21 eggs are now in the east nest box! The last time we had a for-sure count for this nest was 12 eggs on April 5th so that's 9 more in the past 4 days. One of them is definitely a hooded merganser egg and perhaps another one as well: there are two that seem similar in being larger and whiter than the others. The eggs in the east box clearly are being incubated now: tonight they were covered and very warm and the duck is tending them continually except when she leaves for an hour or a few to get food. But back on the 6th after spending the first night in the nest box, she left them alone for almost all of the next day, so I'm not sure if that day counts as an incubation day. In any case wood duck incubation time varies and I think that's partly because the ducks are flexible in how much time they spend on the nest.
West nest: In the west nest box incubation started yesterday. We watched the duck plucking down, digging with her bill to pull up and rearrange the eggs, and settling in with a distinctive wiggling, shifting motion to ensure full contact with the eggs. She was there all night and all day today too except for a couple of hours this evening (when we counted) and she's back on the nest as I write this. There were 17 eggs tonight which is 4 more than three days ago.

Thursday April 6, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 14? estimated   Incubation began 4/6, hatching between 5/4 and 5/8
  • West nest box eggs: 13 - three more than yesterday
Wood ducks: Tonight we found 13 eggs in the west nest and a surprise in the east nest. I checked at around sunset and both nests were empty, but tonight at 9:00 when I opened the side door of the east nest box the first thing I noticed was lots of down, and then I saw smooth feathers of a ducks back and the distinctive white ring around a little black eye, looking at me. I quickly and gently shut the door again and she didn't bolt. My theory is the bright headlight that I was wearing prevented her from seeing anything that she could identify as scary enough to leave.

This starts the clock for hatching day! Wood duck incubation time varies between 28 and 32 days, so the ducklings should hatch sometime between May 4th and May 8th.

I've turned on the night-time lights in both of the nest boxes.
Yesterday I wrote about what you may have seen, where a hen is hissing and jabbing at the doorway because another duck is there hoping to get in. This morning we first noticed the duck inside the west nest acting annoyed, and we looked out to see that both a male and female had landed on the roof of the nest box and the hen was periodically bending down to stick her head in.

Wednesday April 5, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 12 - four more than two days ago
  • West nest box eggs: 10 - six more than than two days ago!
Mallard: Here's another picture of the mallard nest when she was away, showing how much down she has plucked to feather the nest and also to expose her breast to the eggs (it must be kind of cold to fly around like that).
Wood ducks: Ten eggs were laid in the past two days. Most mornings there is a duck in each nest box and often one, two, or three other hens (attended by their mates) nearby in the creek or the back yard, waiting for their turn. Here's a shot inside of the west nest box taken tonight, after I put the eggs back in and before covering them up.
You might sometimes see and hear a duck hissing, beak open, and jabbing upwards. She's directing that aggression at the doorway opening which is not in the camera's view (unless I tilt the camera). That's always because another duck is trying to get in. Sometimes a hen that wants to come in will land in the doorway but more often she will land on the roof and then lean down to poke her head in. Those cause the duck in the nest box to go on defense, which is usually successful.

However today a second hen got in and the two fought for several minutes until finally one of them left. The fighting consisted of pecking and biting mostly at the nape of the neck, to pull on the feathers and shake the other ducks head. There was no apparent injury or blood nor even any feathers pulled out that I could see. For quite a while the one that was in the nest to begin with was passive. She didn't fight back and just sat there kind of ignoring the other, taking whatever the intruder dished out. Eventually she got tired of that and fought back, at one point getting on top of the intruder. They really snapped at and shook each other, spun around, first one on top then the other. I couldn't keep track of them so don't know whether the invader or defender left the nest. I merged 8 screen shots into the animation shown here.

Monday April 3, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 8 - one more than yesterday
  • West nest box eggs: 4! - three more than yesterday!
In case you are wondering: Ducks have little sense of smell and so are not disturbed by human scent. If incubation has not started the eggs are cold and buried in the wood chips (or not) kind of randomly. As long as we put things back more-or-less as we found them the ducks can't tell that we checked the nest, even if we remove all of the eggs to count them. All of the hens that are laying eggs move them around too. We're careful not to disturb the ducks by checking the camera first to make sure they aren't there. After incubation starts the rules are different: we rarely open the nest boxes and if we do then we neither rearrange the eggs nor change how they are covered in any way since at that time the duck is working diligently to keep all of the eggs warm and all at the same temperature.
Mallard: The mallard hen left her eggs uncovered for a few minutes today. She was close by but was out of the camera's view. She has now mixed lots of soft down into the wood chips of the nest. It's a thick blanket when she covers the eggs and leaves to find food. Beneath it the eggs stay very warm.
Wood ducks: Today was a busy day with lots of ducks in the creek and many visits of both nest boxes. The hooded merganser hen was in the East nest box today (yesterday we saw her in the west nest box) and we think she may have laid an egg there. As mentioned in yesterday's log, merganser eggs are very similar to wood duck eggs but slightly larger and whiter. The 4 in the west nest box (where she was yesterday for a while) all look the about the same ... well, maybe one is just a bit whiter, some variation is normal and it's hard to say for sure ... but in the east box one of the new eggs (left) is significantly larger and whiter than the other 7 which all look similar to the one on the right.

Here are four pictures of the hooded mergansers that I took today.

Sunday April 2, 2017
  • Mallard eggs: 12   Incubation began 3/31, hatching on about 4/27
  • East nest box eggs: 7
  • West nest box eggs: 1
Wood ducks: This afternoon there were 7 eggs in the east nest box (two more than on Friday), and 1 in the west (there were none on Friday).

On Saturday morning we saw a hooded merganser male in the creek, hanging around like the male ducks do when a female is in the nest box. So we checked the cameras. The west nest (the newer nest box) had a duck in it and a few moments of observing confrimed that it was a merganser hen, not a wood duck.

Hooded merganser male ducks look entirely different from male wood ducks but are just as spectacular. Hooded mergansers have the same nesting habits and exactly the same incubation time as wood ducks and it is common for them to dump eggs in wood duck nests, and vice versa. A brood of ducklings can thus be a mixture so a hen - either merganser or wood duck - that does all of the incubation and parenting work can end up raising not only some ducklings of another hen, but even the ducklings of another species of duck. There is one big difference: wood ducks are dabblers that eat by dabbling at the surface whereas mergansers are divers that submerge completely to get food. Thus I heard that you can tell the difference between the ducklings in a brood even when they are tiny by watching for this behavior and that when alarmed and seeking safety the merganser duckling's dive whereas the wood duck chicks scurry along the surface.)

The single egg in the west nest box could have been laid by the merganser because she was in there for at least 20 minutes and behaved like she might be laying (hard to tell since that also looks a lot like trying the nest out by turning around and settling down in various ways); however hooded merganser eggs are supposed to be slightly larger and whiter than wood duck eggs but the one that was there tonight looked exactly like a wood duck egg to me so I don't think it's hers. It would be really great to have a hooded merganser actually stay in the nest box this year but I'm not too hopeful for that. We've seen them in the creek every year, but only briefly and a few times. I think they are less tolerant of human presence than wood ducks.

Friday March 31, 2017

Mallard ducklings are due on April 27th!

Mallard: Our mallard hen has been busy during the past few days, laying one egg per day, resting on the nest during the morning and into the early afternoon, and then covering the eggs and leaving for the afternoon and night. But tonight she is staying on the nest so incubation has started. I've turned on the night-time lights. The incubation period for mallards and wood ducks is the same: 28 days. However this can vary based on weather and the behavior of the mother duck too. If the eggs are cool for a while then development slows.
It is the start of incubation that starts development. An egg that was laid 2 weeks ago will hatch at the same time, within hours, of an egg laid today because they all started to stay warm continually at the same time. Part of the hens job is to turn and rearrange the eggs so that they all get the same warmth.
Wood ducks: The east nest box has 5 eggs tonight. The west nest box has none. Wood duck hens continue to visit the nest boxes, mostly the east one and in the morning. They typically stay for an hour or a few. We saw a hen in the nest this morning for a while, then she left, then either she came back or another hen did and stayed again for an hour or so. Just one of those visits resulted in an egg. We know that because we also checked yesterday and there were 4.

The west nest box has had some visitors but none have stayed very long. When incubation starts in the east box in a week or two then the other ducks may be more interested in the west box because the incubating hen will be there 20 to 22 hours out of 24 and will not let other hens in while she is there.
Wood ducks do something called "dumping" where two or more hens will lay eggs in the same nest. In fact a hen that sees another entering or leaving a nest is attracted to that same nest for her eggs too. One year the east nest box had 31 eggs, layered about 3 deep, which meant that at least 3 hens were laying eggs there, maybe more.

25 of the 31 eggs hatched. Sometimes eggs fail to hatch because they are infertile but sometimes it is because another hen laid an egg in a nest where incubation had already started while the "owner" was out for breakfast or supper. The new egg develops, but is a day or two or more behind the others. And sometimes a hen will not get all of the eggs evenly warm such as when one is consistently missed when she rearranges them and stays deep in the nest or is in a corner for a while. In this case a duckling will "miss the bus" - it is developing but won't hatch on the day when the others do.

Sadly, and many or you saw this on-camera last year, sometimes a duckling is only a few hours too late and it hatches but is not strong and developed enough to follow its siblings who have been out of their eggs for many more hours. The hen and all of the on-time ducklings leave, but the less developed duckling is left behind. When I clean out a nest box on the day when they have left I've sometimes heard peeping from inside of an intact egg (they do that up to 24 hours before they hatch) or have found a chick just emerging. They are alive but it's too late. In the wild they starve to death - nature can be so harsh. I end their lives more quickly and that is a hard part of having nest boxes to tend.

Tuesday March 28, 2017
Mallard: There are now 9 eggs and the hen has started to mix down into the nest. She's been there into the early afternoon lately, but is still not on the nest overnight so incubation timing has not yet started.
Wood ducks: Wood duck hens continue to visit the nest boxes briefly, typically in the morning, but they don't stay long. I think it's still early for them. I haven't checked for eggs in the last couple of days but there might be some. I'll check someday soon.

Thursday March 23, 2017
Mallard: The mallard hen was on the nest during the first half of the morning and laid a fifth egg. Because of the low camera angle and that she was facing away, we actually saw the event. Not much drama though: just a bit of shifting around, and then suddenly an egg popped out. First time I've seen that.
Wood ducks: A hen was in the east nest box for maybe an hour mid-morning. We checked in the evening and no eggs yet; she's just testing and evaluating.

Wednesday March 22, 2017
As far as we can tell the mallard did not visit the nest today. Still four eggs that are all covered up. Also we did not see any wood ducks. It was a cold breezy day.

Both of the cameras are now live in the duck houses and I've updated the web page ... all ready for spring 2017, a couple of weeks earlier than last year. I'll send the first message to the ducks mailing list in a few minutes.

Tuesday March 21, 2017
Mallard: She was on the nest in the morning again, and another egg. There are now four of them. She used ALL of the wood chips from yesterday to build up the nest and to cover the eggs when she left so I put some more wood chips nearby again. I set up the camera.
Wood ducks: A pair investigated the west nest box, while two more waited nearby. In the afternoon I added some more wood shavings and checked for eggs. No eggs, but in each box a hen had rearranged the wood shavings to make a nest-shaped depression.

Monday March 20, 2017
Mallard: The hen was on the nest in the morning. Another egg. In the afternoon I put two big handfuls of wood chips about a foot away from the nest.
Wood ducks: A few wood ducks are around, some of them in pairs, so I set up both of the nest boxes. Within an hour one of the hens was in the east house while her mate waited on the ground outside. This is typical behavior when she's laying an egg.

Sunday March 19, 2017
Mallard: Three years ago and also two years ago, a mallard hen successfully nested in the planter that is about 2 feet from our front door! Last year she laid just one egg but then abandoned it and we didn't see her again. This year she's back. Today when I got the newspaper I startled a duck. She ran to the end of the planter and I saw that there was a depression dug into the top layer of dirt (it is still frozen further down) where she had gathered leftover wood chips from the mulch in the planter and lined the dirt with these. There were two eggs (laid over the past couple of days). We hope she stays.
Wood ducks: I first saw a lone male about a week ago, and there was a pair of them in the creek today.