Fair Weather Fowl
The mild temperatures, blossoming maples and rash of tornadoes have made it feel like spring is already here. At Duck Creek and Mingo, dabbling ducks have been passing through as part of their spring migration towards the breeding grounds. Other ducks have already reached their final destination. In fact, the hooded mergansers and wood ducks that call the Mingo basin home have already started nesting.
Duck Creek's Breeding Ducks
Peter Blums is a waterfowl biologist who has been monitoring these species in the Mingo basin for the past 17 years. He has been banding hoodies and woodies and monitoring their nest success to gain a better understanding of where these ducks go and how successful they are during the breeding season.
Although it might seem early to some, hooded mergansers typically start laying their eggs in mid-February at Duck Creek. On average, Peter has found that wood ducks start nesting a week to 10 days later than their fellow feathered fowl. However, like anything in nature, variability occurs more often than the long-term average. This year, instead of waiting for the hooded mergansers to get started, the wood ducks began nesting at the same time as the hoodies. Although Hallmark could claim it was because of their successful Valentine’s Day marketing campaign, which isn’t the case, both species started laying eggs between February 14-17 this year.
By the end of February, Peter reports, a much larger proportion than usual of the local population has already started laying eggs. In fact, several wood ducks have already completed laying their clutches and have begun to incubate. The hooded merganser nests that Peter is monitoring haven’t yet reached this stage.
On average Peter monitors about 100 different nest boxes on Duck Creek. Depending upon the year, these nest boxes have produced between 100-200 hooded merganser and 600-800 wood duck ducklings annually. We’ll have to stayed tuned to see what happens this year, but it looks like the wood ducks may have responded positively to the mild conditions.