West nest ducklings

The ducklings in the west nest will almost certainly jump tomorrow morning. The hen likes to wait for full daylight to be able to see if the area is safe, but the sun rises before 6:00. On the other hand, sometimes she waits until late morning. See my post from yesterday (scroll down to “What to expect on jump day”) for more about what to watch for.

Below are some photos taken today: 1) Momma duck is wearing a nice feather hat, 2) One of the first times she moved aside: one duckling is already dry, another has just emerged from its egg, 3) The ducklings when the hen was out getting supper this evening: the hooded merganser duckling is left of center with the Don King haircut.

East nest – 19 eggs

We checked the east nest box this evening while the hen was away. There were 23 eggs but after candling them (see the post from April 24th) we removed 4 that were laid recently and completely undeveloped vs. the other 19. They had no chance of hatching with the others. They probably were laid by the hen that has been peacefully joining the incubating hen for a while on most mornings. As posted previously, this nest will probably hatch around May 27th, plus or minus a day or two.

West nest hatching

We opened the nest box at 4:00 when the hen was out for supper and found that most of the 23 eggs were pipped. That is, the shell was slightly broken and pushed out from the inside in one small place. This is done by the duckling inside when it pecks at the shell with its “egg tooth” which is a sharp little protrusion at the end of its bill.

If you look at the West nest camera you might not see anything different: just a sleeping duck. But if you watch for a while you may see her moving around and turning the eggs by digging down with her bill. The ducklings break out of the eggs by themselves, but they can’t get out from under other eggs so the hen turns them. She’s reacting to peeping of the ducklings within the eggs, before they have even hatched. (It’s a very soft sound and hard to hear via the camera’s microphones.)

Soon after they hatch you’ll be able to see them as they get more and more active and stronger, alternating with periods of rest. They will most likely jump from the nest box on Sunday morning. On jump day I plan to have a third camera set up outdoors, facing the nest box, so with two browser windows you can watch both the inside and outside action simultaneously.

Here is a link to the outdoor camera. It is offline right now (7:30 Friday) but the link works to take you to where the camera will be live, later on. I’ll post again when the camera goes live.

What to expect on jump day:

The hen will typically go out for breakfast early in the morning. This gives you a good look at the ducklings but they will usually settle down and sleep in a pile, which makes them impossible to count. When she returns she will typically stay in the nest box for a while as the ducklings alternate between climbing around and staying quiet. At some point the hen will jump up into the nest box opening and study the surrounding area, often for many minutes. She’s looking for foxes, dogs, cats, hawks, crows, people, … anything that might harm the ducklings. Often she is not satisfied with the first look and will drop back into the nest and stay for another 5 to 20 minutes. She may repeat this several times.

Finally, when she decides the time is right, she will leave the nest box and drop down to the ground below it and start a soft pulsing call. The ducklings respond by peeping loudly, jumping and climbing inside the nest box, and jumping from the opening. This doesn’t take long. It’s usually only a few minutes from when she starts to call until the last duckling has jumped. She then leads them away and they never return to the nest.

Happy Together

(Hatching is due any day now in the west nest.)

Two hens continue to share the east nest box every morning. The hen that comes in to join the one that is incubating doesn’t stay long. She’s there for just 10 minutes or so; long enough to lay an egg. But they don’t fight like others do in that same situation. It would be interesting to know if they are related. That makes a difference for some mammals that parent cooperatively, but for ducks?

Here’s a picture of them from Saturday morning:

Distorted Ducks

A wood duck typically leaves the nest twice per day but is usually gone for less than an hour. During that short time she must find enough to eat. She will eat high-protein/high-calorie foods such as insects and small aquatic creatures but a lot of her food is vegetation. This food is fairly low in calories so she needs a lot of it. It might be hard to gobble up enough greens in a short time but she has the answer: a “crop”. A bird’s crop is a muscular organ in the throat where food is stored before being actually swallowed down into the stomach.

When a duck returns and settles in they sometimes look like something is very wrong: there’s an alarming and lop-sided bulge in the front. But that’s only because her crop is full. It’s like how sometimes when we stuff our cheeks full of our favorite cake (mine is carrot with cream-cheese frosting) until they’re full – or maybe more on one side than the other – and that way we have some to enjoy later on in the day … or am I the only one who does that?