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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ducks in Trees?

Most ducks only sit in a tree after it has become a log. Wood ducks are different.

This morning two males waited attentively while a female was in a nest nearby.
It seems odd for the males to get along so well during mating season. If a second male eagle were to come any where near the nest of a mated pair of eagles it would immediately be challenged. One theory is that since wood ducks can't make their own nests it results in a short supply of nesting sites. This may cause them to be a bit more flexible in their mating habits. This seems to be the implication in this research.

There are many ways that wood ducks differ from other ducks. Here is a quick list of characteristics that are at least special if not completely unique to wood ducks.
  1. The male bird is possibly the most colorful bird in North America.
  2. They nest inside trees.
  3. They use nesting cavities made by other creatures.
  4. Their webbed feet also have claws.
  5. Within 24 hours of hatching they can climb up the inside of a hollow tree and then fall to freedom.
  6. They may lay their eggs in multiple nests.
  7. They may raise the young of other birds.
  8. They may raise two broods a year.
Even among wood ducks most of their time is not spent in trees. If you take a kayak or canoe trip around Marsh or Foster Island you are likely to see them paddling about looking for food.

This video shows both a male and female while feeding. Wood ducks are omnivores and the male in the following video appears to be trying to eat some type of crayfish. What ever it is it appears to be too much for this Wood Duck to consume.

As you can see in the video the female has the same shape as the male but her coloring is very different. This is the special time of year when you can see wood ducks in trees. They are looking for nesting sites. Yesterday morning this pair flew back and forth searching for an opening that was, "Just Right".

The male inspected this possibility first and then...
the female stopped to take a closer look.

She decided to move on when...

...the woodpecker returned.

Here is one more video which shows a rather large number of male birds attempting to gain the affection of a single female. The head-bobs appear to be the equivalent of, "Look at me. I'm so fine!"

Even with clawed feet the wood ducks sometimes slip.

Spring is certainly here and the fun has just begun.

Have a great day and be sure to watch for, Ducks in Trees!


Note: If you want a good view of the wood ducks in the trees, without scaring them away, a pair of binoculars is highly recommended.

Update - Bird Nest Questions:                                                                      3-30-2013

Yesterday I received the following email:

Hi Larry,

I appreciate reading your blog off of the Montlake forum. Today I found this bird nest in our backyard & I'm hoping you might be able to help me identify what kind of bird made it. Its pretty big, two palms for the mud cup, and has some nut shells in the bottom. 

We get a beautiful stellar jay, robins, and several other smaller birds in our backyard daily.

Thanks for your help & if you know of anyone that would like the nest we would be happy to pass it along!


Of the birds you mentioned I would guess the Stellar's Jay, however it would be nice to hear comments from folks who know more than I do. Also is anyone out there collecting nests?


  1. We have a similar old nest that blew down from the cherry tree on our parking strip. It had been there for a few years and I had always assumed it was a squirrel nest. It looks almost like a crown of thorns and is now displayed in the crook of the tree. A hearty home for ?
    PS The wood duck tree houses are so unusual. My grandfather lived in the northern woods of Michigan and had teepee cans hanging from trees for the ducks and I would never have believed it until seeing these pictures! Nice work-thank you!

  2. Hi Colleen,

    You could always "install" the nest around Montlake Elementary -the kids would be thrilled upon discovery!

  3. A couple of years ago there were two nesting Wood Duck females at McClain Creek south of Olympia. They both hatched their broods within a day or two of each other. One had 6 and the other 7 babies they were shepherding. A few days later one of the females disappeared and her babies were in a group alone. Within a week they were being looked after by the surviving Mama duck.

    During the summer male wood ducks molt. They loose their pretty colors and become flightless. Once the babies hatch and are in the water Mama tends to them by herself and chases the males away. So the male ducks hang out together in their own group. They pair up again after the babies fledge in the fall.

    As you might suspect, baby ducks make easy prey and the attrition rate is high. Of the 13 ducklings mentioned above only 6 were left to take flight lessons.

    1. Great information! Thank you very much for taking the time (even in the middle of the night) to share with everyone. I am hoping we get to see young Wood Ducks in the Arboretum this year! Have a great day!

  4. Have just encountered your page and I guess you should be complimented for this piece. More power to you!