Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wood Duck Motherhood

This weekend my husband and I strolled along the C&O Canal for a few miles, starting around Swain's Lock. At one point we were watching some Double-crested Cormorants congregate on rocks in the middle of the Potomac River. I was hoping for something unusual, maybe a breeding pair of mergansers since there are a few breeding pairs in the region.

Double-crested Cormorants, yawn.

I never did find any mergansers, but suddenly we spotted a mother Wood Duck paddling along with eleven tiny ducklings. Adorable! I snapped a quick photograph of the group, but as soon as I did that, Mama suddenly decided we were a threat. She started squawking loudly and paddled off double-time in the same direction, slapping her wings against the water as if she were wounded. The babies, however, took a sharp right turn and headed at an angle to their original heading. They paddled so fast their little bodies were half out of the water. As they escaped, the ducklings stuck together in a tight bunch.  What a neat way for Mama to distract a predator and send the babies to safety!  Here's the sequence of photos; apologies for the backlighting and general haziness of the images-- there was a lot of pollen in the air and on the water.

Before Mama knew we were watching...
Mama just spotted us and decoyed away to the left; the ducklings started their turn.
Mama's squawking far downstream by now; the ducklings keep hustling off to safety.

Pretty cool to watch the decoy technique in action! I've seen Killdeer parents try to decoy me away from a nest, but never Wood Ducks before. Motherhood is pretty powerful.

This entry's park: C & O Canal National Historical Park

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