DUCKS CAN RELAX FOR AWHILE
February 3, 2013
season in the southern United States typically begins by February, at
the same time that legal duck hunting ends. This came as a relief to
my neighbo's 9-year-old son whose pet duck had disappeared. He feared
it might be flying into a phalanx of shotgun-armed duck hunters. I assured
him that we did not allow hunting in our backyard and would let him
know if we heard quacking.
was probably answering the call of the wild to look for a mate, and
our young neighbor took comfort in learning that it was not likely to
get shot. Based on his description of the duck - a green head and yellow
bill - I assumed it was a mallard drake that was winging its way north
to select a mate before the onset of nesting. That's what most North
American ducks do this time of year.
does duck hunting season end from the Carolinas, to Alabama, to Louisiana
in January instead of February? Perhaps in part because one species
of hunted waterfowl, wood ducks, are resident in the Deep South. These
ducks begin their own breeding season early in the year, laying eggs
as early as mid to late January. Hunting ducks while they are trying
to produce new ducks would not be a good wildlife management plan.
ducks migrate as far north as southern Canada where they nest and spend
the summer, but many remain resident throughout the year in the South.
Wood ducks are a conservationist success story. The species was nearly
wiped out by the early 20th century because of habitat loss and unregulated
hunting. Not only were wood ducks hunted for food, as they are today,
but the male's plumage, which is one of the most beautiful of all ducks,
could be sold commercially.
my colleagues, Bobby Kennamer, has handled more wood ducks than anyone
else I know of. As a research coordinator at the University of Georgia's
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory over the past 30 years, he has captured
wood duck hens and counted more than 48,000 eggs in South Carolina's
cypress-gum swamps and wetlands. One goal is to enhance population levels
of wood ducks, the only duck that commonly nests in the southeastern
Atlantic coastal plain. He accomplishes this through his long-term research,
which provides a better understanding of nesting patterns of this highly
prized game species. His efforts will bring far-reaching, long-term
benefits to wood ducks and, paradoxically, to those who hunt them.
nesting habitat for this game species, conservationists use duck boxes,
which are wooden structures with a duck size hole to mimic the tree
holes where they lay eggs. Of the more than 3,500 wood duck nests Bobby
has checked during his research, he has only found one on the ground.
The rest have been in hollow trees or wood duck boxes. He has put out
more than 275 wood duck boxes and checked them daily to weekly during
nesting season to record the number of birds nesting and eggs laid.
wood duck nesting success he begins checking the boxes in early January
to see if hens have begun to occupy the artificial nest cavities. By
early February, the tedious but gratifying egg counting begins. In some
habitats, all the boxes have wood ducks nesting in them at some time
during a year.
southeastern United States, wood ducks lay eggs as early as mid-January
and as late as early July. These are the only North American species
of duck to commonly have more than one brood of ducklings in a season.
The incubation period averages about a month. Thus, young ducklings
may leave the nest cavity as early as the first of March or as late
as the middle of August.
former pet duck and most other waterfowl are about to embark on a long
trek to get to their summer home. Wood ducks, however, will remain in
the South all year round.
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