East nest hatching soon (Saturday)

When I checked the eggs in the East nest this evening two of them were pipped, that is, broken slightly by the duckling inside. This occurs 24 to 48 hours before they hatch. Since it might have started earlier today my guess is that they will hatch tomorrow … for some definition of “tomorrow”: maybe during the day, maybe overnight tomorrow. This means that jump day is either Sunday or Monday morning. The young ducklings need about 20 hours in the nest box before they’re strong enough to go.

The first couple of eggs were put into the nest weeks before she started to incubate, perhaps by another duck. The hen occupying the nest laid only four or maybe five (typically it’s about a dozen) and when she started incubation there were 7. There are now 9 eggs in the nest but two of them didn’t show up until a week after she started incubating, again this is most likely due to some other duck putting eggs into this nest box. (For more about this odd behavior, see this section of my Ducks Info page.)

So I don’t know how many will hatch: at least two, maybe five, or more? In any case this will be an atypically small family of wood ducks.

Late ducklings:
Sometimes, and it’s somewhat likely this this time, a duckling will hatch many hours after the others and is not developed enough to leave when the rest go off with the hen (and never return). (Here is a page of information about late ducklings.) The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota will take orphaned ducklings although they will not take unhatched eggs.

As usual I’ll add an outside camera so that you can watch them leave the nest from both inside and outside the nest box. When that camera is online, it will be shown as is the current inside camera on the new multi-camera page that is linked at birdsgv.com

Other nest boxes:
We have not seen any activity in the other two nest boxes, West and South, since the ducklings left from those on May 19th. Sometimes we have had a second nesting where two families use the same nest box, but not this year. Once the East nest has jumped the ducks will be all done for this year. However I still have a couple of things to post: I have two new videos in-progress and will provide those soon.

The 9 eggs in the east nest when the hen left for supper this evening. She had time to cover them but chose to leave them exposed. It’s hot outside and they will stay warm enough without the usual down blanket cover.

11 Mergansers, 16 Wood ducks

The hooded merganser family left their nest box at 7:15 this morning, and the wood ducks jumped at about 9:00. I hope the cameras worked well for those of you who watched. The rain sometimes interfered with the wifi signals from the South nest area causing those to be slow, and “Buffering” was sometimes shown rather than live video. I have ideas for signal improvements for next time.

There was one unhatched egg in each nest. (The wood duck started out with 18, but I removed one infertile egg about a week ago.) Here are a couple of pictures taken just a few minutes after they left their nest boxes.

The hooded merganser hen and her 11. Baby hooded mergansers have very bushy head feathers (just like mom).
The wood duck with 16 ducklings. (One is completely hidden behind her in this photo. You can see 15: two barely have the tops of their heads visible above her tail and in the second row behind her there are 4 that look at first like just 3.)

Just minutes after the mergansers left, another hooded merganser hen was in the nest box checking it out! She’s been hanging around for the past several days. It’s quite possible that there will be another round of nesting and ducklings. One recent year we had two batches in each of two nest boxes – lots of baby ducks. For now, I’ve shut off the streaming service for the now-empty nest boxes but if any activity starts up again I will put the cameras back online for you.

We’re still mourning the loss of the cardinal chicks. One moment they were getting so much bigger and starting to feather out, with a nearly constant tag-team of visits of the parents bringing more and more food – fun to watch – and then, in a 1 second blur: gone! The raptor took them both in one grab.

I pretty sure that it was an American Kestrel, also known as a Sparrow Hawk. At first I mentioned a Cooper’s hawk but Kestrels eat birds too, and a Cooper’s hawk is much bigger than what we saw. I should have a camera recording of the event and will review it soon. Also, I was intending to make a video about the cardinals but it certainly would now have a sad ending for them. Yet a happy one for the predator, I guess. When we’ve watched an owl nest camera it’s been interesting to see the parent bring in a meal yet we’ve also watched cameras where owls take osprey chicks. It really is eat-and-be-eaten out there in the natural world.

It’s that way for ducks too. One reason they have ducklings in such large numbers is that they are on the menu for so many other creatures, gulls, hawks, foxes, coyotes, northerns, bass, snapping turtles, and more. A duck has done well if just a few of her offspring reach adulthood. So: Good luck little ducks! (You’ll need some.)

Buffering (annoying)

The South cameras are struggling to send video. I tried resetting the outside camera but it’s still doing that. Unlike the West there are trees between the South cameras (especially the Outside camera) and the wifi antenna on the house. Today they are wet leave and the cameras are also farther away. Both mean difficult wifi transmission. So, not much I can do about it … until next year.

Jump day tomorrow May 19

Some sad news: this evening a Cooper’s hawk took both of the almost-fledged cardinal chicks. This is what Cooper’s hawks do: they eat other birds. So the hawk’s babies got a meal and the poor cardinals have to start over. Nature can be so harsh.

Outside cameras:
I just finished setting up outside cameras on both the South and West nests. To do this I suspended the East nest camera temporarily: it will be back after tomorrow, and I am also now using the channel formerly used for the cardinal camera. So these are the 4 cameras now:

  • West nest (wood ducks)
  • West nest outside
  • South nest (hooded mergansers)
  • South nest outside

The mergansers probably will leave early since they hatched early today. The wood ducks hatched hours later and thus will probably leave later, but my guesses are not always what they do. The wood ducks do look ready-to-go tonight, so I’m pretty sure they will jump tomorrow, not Thursday.

Jump day – What to expect: (typical)

The hen will leave for an hour or so to get some breakfast. When she returns she will rest for a while. The ducklings will alternate between hopping around and climbing and practice-jumping, and napping. Eventually the hen will jump up into the doorway and sit there, studying the area for predators that might harm her ducklings. Sometimes she will watch for 10 minutes, or even more. Usually she is not satisfied with the first inspection and after a while she will drop back into the nest. Sometimes she repeats this many times. But once in while a hen will look just once, for not very long, will like what she sees, and will get on with it.

The earliest they’ve jumped is about 7:00, the latest: 1:00pm.

Once she decides to go she will drop down below the nest and start a special soft pulsing call. This activates the ducklings. They peep loudly and start jumping and climbing up to the door (more or less), and then they perch for a moment, or longer, and jump out and down. Often it takes only a couple of minutes and they’ve all jumped. Sometimes longer. When all of the ducklings are out – which she can tell because there is no more loud peeping coming from the nest – she will take them into the water and often will swim away with them downstream.