Plants and Animals
This autumn I was photographing several young turkeys that had recently discovered the joys of my freshly-planted food plot. As I sat in my portable blind I heard the familiar cry of a wood duck down the hill about a 100 yards in the direction of our tiny pond. Built in 1945, our pond has seen its best days for fishing but now wooded, shallow and covered with duckweed it provides a secluded feeding area for wood ducks. In the spring and fall, the woodies, as they are known to hunters, fly back and forth between our little pond and their roosting and loafing area on the nearby Bourbuese River. As I listened to the lonely whistle of the drake wood duck, I made a mental note to eventually move my blind to the pond and pursue some fresh images of what many consider Missouri’s most beautiful waterfowl species.
The drake wood duck (Aix sponsa), when in breeding plumage, is almost gaudy-looking with its iridescent green head streaked with purple and topped with a purple crest. A brilliant white patch lies across the throat and continues upward across the side of the face in two streaks. The chest is a deep red, almost maroon, spotted with triangles of white, and the bill, also red, has a lovely yellow border at its base. Finally, the eye, which is the wood duck’s most striking feature in my opinion, is brilliant red. As with most waterfowl species, the hen’s beauty is more subtle with grays and browns on the head and body, a white ring around the eye and wings of pinkish-purple and blue with a metallic sheen.
Wood ducks can be found year-round in Missouri but most migrate north and south with the seasons as do other waterfowl. As a game bird, wood ducks are considered fine table fare and are second only to mallards in popularity. Wood ducks begin nesting in the spring in tree cavities along forested stream corridors and wooded wetlands. When the young hatch they jump from their nest to the water or ground below, sometimes from dizzying heights, without injury. Once on the water, the mother does her best to protect her young, often feigning injury to passing canoeists in order to distract them from her vulnerable fledglings. Wood ducks feed on seeds, aquatic invertebrates, acorns and aquatic vegetation, including duck weed— the specialty of the day at our little pond!
A few days after hearing the wood duck’s cry, I decided it was time to make my move, so late that evening I set up my blind in a copse of cedars at pond’s edge. A few minutes before daylight, I watched four woodies drop out of the sky, then six more, then another group of four. Soon, there was a cluster of 34 billed beauties gorging themselves on duckweed right at my feet. My camera got a serious workout that morning, and I didn’t make it back up the hill to my house until almost 9 a.m. when, finally sated, the entire group took flight back to the Bourbuese River.
—story and photo by Danny Brown