Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, October 7, 2017

It Takes A Village

The Box Building Team - from left to right: Tiffany Lloyd, Larry Hubbell, Kathy Hartman, Chris Kessler and Dave Galvin. 

The team mission is to increase the number of wood ducks on Union Bay, raise awareness of nature in the city and provide opportunities for University of Washington students to study and learn about cavity nesting birds. 

Thank you all for your hard work and assistance!

Chris Kessler installing box #1.

If you spend time around Union Bay you may have noticed the large elevated boxes appearing near the water's edge. With the support of David Zuckerman, Manager of Horticulture, and the University of Washington Botanical Gardens, the new nest boxes are being situated in what we hope are optimal nesting locations. 

Dave Galvin installing box #4.

In the spring, our box building team is hoping Union Bay wood ducks will find and use these boxes to shelter their eggs during the process of incubation. 

A female wood duck with two male suitors.

Wood ducks have sharp 'tree-climbing' claws which help them to land and nest in trees, unlike mallards, gadwalls and most other ducks. 

Sadly, wood ducks are unable to build their own nest cavities. Each spring, female wood ducks spend a great deal of time searching through the trees for appropriately-sized nest sites. I have watched them stick their heads into rather tiny holes - like the ones in this snag. Apparently wood ducks do not have great visual skills when it comes to mentally measuring the size of a potential nest site. 

It appears their learning strategy is simply trial-and-error. Sometimes they fit, sometimes they don't. Wood ducks depend primarily on woodpeckers and occasionally nature, through broken limbs and tree rot, to create their nesting sites. You can read more about the competition for prime sites in last spring's post titled, The Housing Crisis.

Decades ago forest surrounded Union Bay. Interspersed among the living trees would have been a number of standing dead trees. These snags would have provided plenty of nesting cavities for wood ducks. Much of that original forest still stands around Union Bay but it is now in the form of human habitation and is not particularly useful to the ducks.

Manmade nest boxes provide a safe and functional alternative which will hopefully help with the restoration of our local wood duck population. Union Bay appears to have plenty of food for wood ducks, which leads us to believe nest sites are the limiting factor in their reproduction.

Young wood ducks are highly precocious.In the first day after hatching they climb out of the nest, tumble to the ground, follow their mother to water and begin feeding themselves. The screen inside the box is to help newly hatched wood ducks climb up and out of the box.

How many wood duck ducklings do you see in this photo?

Their mother will attempt to provide awareness and some protection from danger but the brood sizes can be quite large and survival is really a numbers game. Ultimately, it comes down to more nest sites equal more ducklings, more ducklings equal more wood ducks and more wood ducks equal more ducklings - if there are adequate nest sites. (I think I see portions of ten different ducklings in the photo.)

Tiffany Lloyd installing box #7.

Tiffany is the first UW student to take an interest in our Union Bay wood ducks and specifically in this project. We are hoping her research, and that of other students as well, will help us learn better ways to live in harmony with wood ducks and nature in general.

We have built ten boxes and hope to have them all installed before spring somewhere around Union Bay. You might want to challenge yourself to see how many of the ten you can find. The easiest way to find them is by boat however almost all can be seen from land - if you try hard enough. Note: Only seven are currently installed.

One of the most challenging aspects of the installation process was trying to select sites which will work well for the wood ducks while not providing easy access for other creatures. Specifically creatures which would love to eat the eggs or utilize the boxes for their own nests. The list includes eastern gray squirrels, Norway rats, raccoons, muskrats and others. The large black pipes are designed to keep creatures from climbing up to the nest boxes and the distance from other vegetation is designed to keep them from dropping or jumping onto the boxes. We also must deal with the potential invasions by european starlings - in which case we may have to board up the boxes for a time. 

This is the part where we could really use your help. Particularly in the spring if you see a creature other than a wood duck entering one of the boxes, please let me know. We may need to adjust our defensive strategy. My email is ldhubbell@comcast.net. 

By the way, there is a single large number printed in the wood directly under each box. It should be easily visible with binoculars. Please note this number in your correspondence. It will greatly simplify our communications.

Thank you for your help. It really does take a village to live in harmony with nature. 

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. Can you identify these creatures? Are they Union Bay natives?




Scroll down for the answers


A) Cooper's Hawk, native to Union Bay
B) Eastern Gray Squirrel, nonnative to Union Bay

These are not two isolated photos. They were taken yesterday in the Arboretum, immediately after the female Cooper's Hawk apparently attacked the squirrel. If you look closely you can see some of the fur is missing from the upper portion of the squirrel's tail and there may even be a small red scrape on the tail. I think the hawk got a taste.

Between the first attack and the second attempt the hawk flew slightly farther away. During the brief interlude the hawk was very actively moving its head, adjusting the angle and you can even see the nictitating membrane is halfway closed over the eye - which I think indicates that the hawk was thinking about its next attack. 

What was truly interesting to me was the fact that the squirrel did not try to run away from the hawk. There were no trees immediately nearby and the squirrel apparently realized that over the open ground the hawk would catch it. So the squirrel elected to stay on the opposite side of the tree trunk from the hawk. I suspect this is why the hawk was so actively watching the tree. It was looking for any hint that the squirrel was preparing to make a run for it. The squirrel waited. The hawk tried again. The squirrel scampered around the trunk and the hawk gave up and flew away.

By the way, if my memory of Martin Muller's comment is correct the 'buffy' colored cheek on this bird indicates it is a female. The horizontal barring indicates it is an adult. The cap on the head and the varied length of the tail feathers indicate it is a Cooper's Hawk instead of a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Ed Deal suggested that the lighter color of the hawk's cap may indicate she is a second year hawk.


  1. Thanks for being proactive. There'll be 10 happy duck couples next Spring.

  2. By the way, I counted 11 ducklings.

    1. Thank you! For the life of me I sure couldn't see that fifth one in front.

  3. I too count 11 ducklings 5 on the right, 6 on the left

    1. Thank you for mention the number 5 to the right. I looked hard and then suddenly the dark little head in the middle final popped into head and I could see it. It sure is funny how seeing is as much mental as it is visual.

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  6. I have Coopers come through my yard quite often because I have had bird feeders up for years and the Coopers know it is bird hunting paradise, I also have lots of Grey squirrels which don't run from Coopers, they stand their ground and face them causing the hawk to abort the attack, I watched one large female squirrel chase a Coopers all through the branches of my fir tree one day when it got close to her nest, now if a Red-tailed Hawk happens to soar overhead 300+ feet up the squirrels scatter for the trees and don't come out until the resident crow chases the red-tailed from the neighborhood.

    Greg Hensen

    1. That is curious. I have seen a mature male Cooper's hawk with a dead eastern gray squirrel in its clutches. The hawk landed on a branch with it and then after seeing me watching it picked up the squirrels body and flew away with it. I had no idea the two species might be so evenly matched. Is there any chance that the hawk(s) at your feeder might be the smaller, but very similar, sharp-shinned hawks?