Date: 3/30/21 7:53 am From: John Farmer <ajf-jlf...> Subject: [birders] The search is on! (very long)
Here along the Saline River near Milan, MI, the trees are alive this morning with multiple Wood Duck pairs in search of nesting spots. What is interesting today is that whereas the housing search usually starts as a trickle and then slowly grows to a flood over the course of a week or two, this year's search has begun en masse, as if a ribbon has been cut or a starting gun fired. Anne and I have counted at least four different pair spread out among the trees over the 100-yard length of the river's loop behind the house.
As I write, a hen has just left her partner perched precariously against the off-plumb trunk of a hackberry not thirty feet from my study window. During the three minutes it took to write that last sentence - with many visual digressions to follow the changing scene - she moved to at least a half dozen different branches in different trees while he has moved once, each small flight by both not more than 20 feet at a time, sometimes higher, sometimes lower in the trees, at least once back to the starting tree, but all within sight of a half dozen natural tree cavities and three of the four tree-mounted nest boxes I maintain on the river bank immediately behind our house.
And now, that pair had dropped to the river's surface to catch a breath after their uneasy stands on perches hardly designed for ducks' feet, and another pair has taken their place as the frenzied game goes on.
Just minutes later, that pair, too, returned to the river and began a slow paddle upstream together. It appears that the nesting urge has abated for today, as attested by the apparent total withdrawal of woodies from the area now. And by the low flight of a pair of Mallards back upstream after their first of several stops to check for the single cob of corn and handful of loose kernels that I leave on the bank daily for all comers.
Those comers at this time of year include - in addition to the Mallards - a pair of Canadas, a pair of Hoodies , sometimes with a second male tagging along to create a triangle (but with none at all interested in the corn, of course), and up to five Woodie hens and usually a few wannabe, but still unmated drakes.
A quick check of my daily records shows that our anatine (my new word for the day!) visitors for the year have been as follows:
* January - Mallards (19 days) and Wood Ducks (3 days) * February - (the river was frozen over for the entire month until the break-up on the 28th) we still had Mallard drop-ins on four Feb days! * March - Mallards (22 days beginning on 3/1), Woodies (17 days, beginning 3/6), Hoodies (10 days, beginning 3/1), Canada Geese (5 days, starting 3/9), and [Great Blue Heron also non-consumers of the corn and non-anatine birds! (3 days starting 3/20]
As we consider what may account for this morning's unusually robust search by the Woodies for nesting cavities, we're wondering if another sector of the wild community that has entertained us all winter at and around our feeders may have prompted the full-on assault.
The diurnal diners at our feeding station just beyond the back of the house include not only the expected array of birds, but also a full range of sciurid cousins. Just yesterday we had Fox, Red, Gray and Black (both color phases of the Gray) Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunk. The two larger squirrel species - Fox and Gray - often raise their first broods of the season in the duck boxes, and we can't help but consider that those non-avian competitors may be affecting the Wood Ducks' united front. We have noted that at least two of our four duck boxes have been seeing squirrel activity lately.
Might today's unusual mass search for nesting space be the wildlife equivalent of a fair-housing demonstration? Or, at least an indicator that there is an acute need for more birthing centers!
I'm heading out to fill the feeders and should also check the duck boxes. But that's another story.