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Monday, 18 Dec 2017

Wood ducks

We have a big old flooded gum (Eucalyptus rudis) in our garden. It’s always full of magpies, wattle birds, honeyeaters, fantails, and all the rest of the common birds of the Darling Scarp; so a few years ago we installed a largish nest box about 7 metres up it in the hope of attracting something a little more unusual – an owl was our hope. As far as we know, no owl has been anywhere near it.

A week ago, my wife, Rachel, was talking to a tradesman in our garden not far from the tree. Suddenly, she became aware of some sort of commotion in the tree above her and saw something that very few people have seen. Here’s what she posted on her Facebook page:

“OMG, I was in the garden, heard a noise in the big tree above me, and suddenly tiny ducklings started dropping out of a nest on to the ground. I didn’t even know the ducks were nesting. Within moments of hitting the earth they picked themselves up and their parents walked them away. I am in awe. They were so tiny. Do baby ducklings get post traumatic stress? It was a heck of a long drop! Nature is joy.”

They were wood ducks (Chenonetta jubata) and yes, unlike other ducks, it is their habit to nest in holes in trees, and they don’t seem to mind how high the hole is. These ducks are quite common in Roleystone: anyone who has driven along roads near bodies of water during winter (e.g. Soldiers Road near the bridge) is likely to have had to brake to let families of wood ducks cross the road from time to time. But their method of exit from their nest is remarkable. Within a day or so of hatching (practically as soon as their down is dry) the tiny ducklings, much smaller than a hen chick, are bundled out of the nest by their parents. They crash straight to the ground if they are lucky, or they ricochet off branches and boughs along the way if they are not. Somehow they survive and are rounded up by their parents who then lead them to the nearest water. From a brood of six or eight ducklings, only one or two will survive to adulthood. The remainder? Well, they’ll get picked off by ravens, kookaburras, rats, maybe a fox, and of course, domestic cats and dogs.

woodducks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nest boxes for wild birds are easy to make or acquire (try a Google search) and well worth the effort – after you have put the box up in a tree you don’t have to do anything other than keep pets under control, watch, and be quiet. If you have kids, what better way to introduce them to the joys of nature?

woodducks box  woodducks box closeup

 Mike Green. 29 August 2016

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