Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wood Ducks and Bluebirds Go House Shopping

The male American Wood Duck is one of our most splendid native birds
Over the last 2 weeks, American Wood Ducks and Eastern Bluebirds have been out house shopping. The Wood Ducks have been frequenting the beaver pond and for the most part ignoring our nest boxes in favor of tree cavities made by woodpeckers.
The female American Wood Duck is also quite splendid
Wood Ducks began visiting the pond as soon as the ice disappeared
Courtship behavior in ducks is always entertaining to observe. Both male and female Wood Ducks jerk their heads up and down. They will also bow their necks and heads low to the water and paddle rapidly in front of each other. There are bound to be lots of splashy chases; most often this involves males chasing away rival suitors. No one gets chased very far though - only a yard or so away.
A male caught in mid-head bob
A female Mallard (obviously larger) swims between the Wood Duck pair
The female Wood Duck checks out one of the old boxes
The male waits below 
She was in there for about 5 minutes making a thorough assessment
What's the verdict on the house?
A century ago we came dangerously close to allowing Wood Ducks to go extinct. Wood Ducks had been getting pressure from all sides. Not only were they being mercilessly shot out of the sky, but their water habitat itself was disappearing. Wetlands were being drained for agricultural purposes as well as for developments and for mosquito control. The duck's plight was further exacerbated by the loss of beavers, which had already been trapped out of the Northeast. This meant that beaver ponds which had traditionally provided the Wood Duck with habitat throughout the species' vast overlapping ranges, would no longer be available to breed in. Another major problem came in the form of a lack of suitable nest cavities. Just as the Wood Ducks depended on the presence of beavers, they also required the presence of large diameter trees and specifically for Pileated Woodpeckers to excavate holes in them. When the Northeast was stripped of much its forest, the Pileated Woodpecker's range decreased dramatically and the species became rare and localized. In the early 1900s, laws were passed which strictly limited the killing of Wood Ducks (one of the first laws of its kind) and the population began to slowly recover. Meanwhile, the return forest habitat paved the way for the return of the Pileated Woodpecker and a successful beaver reintroduction program also led to happier days for the American Wood Duck.
The nest holes made by Pileated Woodpeckers are often reused by Wood Ducks
The return of the beaver to the Northeast did much to bolster Wood Duck numbers
Wood Ducks most often fly up from the pond when people arrive
Last week I was cleaning out our Bluebird boxes - at least the ones that weren't still actively being used by mice. Fortunately most of the mice had already raised their broods and the boxes could be made ready for the next tenants.
This mouse is probably old enough to leave, but we'll give him a few more weeks
A pair of young White-footed Mice still in their bird house - not to be evicted
The male Eastern Bluebird samples the view from one of our boxes 
Before the Tree Swallows and House Wrens return there are many boxes to choose from
The female Bluebird has a look inside - no mice in this one

Last week the first Tree Swallows returned and immediately began claiming boxes

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