By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
There may be plenty of room to debate what bird wears the crown of “Most Beautiful” but I think a lot of voters would happily cast their ballot in favor of the Wood Duck. When these ducks arrive from their wintering grounds in the Deep South they are a most welcome reminder that the seasons are changing. Known by a nickname of “Summer Duck,” Wood Ducks are a symbol of the warm season that follows their return.
Today I chanced upon a beautiful drake Wood Duck and his mate as they explored a vernal pool along Route 82 just up the Red Clay Creek from Ashland Nature Center. Amidst a setting of freshly-emerged Skunk Cabbage and last fall’s brown leaves, the drake’s plumage exhibited every remaining hue of the color spectrum.
After the Wood Duck pair flew from their roadside puddle, I noted that the water contained multiple Wood Frog egg masses. Chances are good that these ducks took advantage of these eggs as an easy source of protein, to supplement their favored diet of acorns, grass seeds, and aquatic vegetation.
Watch for Wood Ducks right now as they begin to arrive on our local streams and marshes. Soon they will be investigating nest boxes and preparing for another “Summer Duck” season of raising young!