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Staffon and his wife, Carol, were going to spend the day helping ducks.
Each spring, the
Wood ducks are cavity nesters. The boxes are intended to supplement tree cavities that wood ducks naturally use for nests. Other duck species, especially hooded mergansers and goldeneyes, will also use nesting boxes.
Sometimes, Staffon said, opening a nesting box can offer a surprise.
"The best we found this year was two flying squirrels," Staffon said. "When I opened the box, one came flying out."
A wildlife technician in northwestern
"You have to be careful reaching a hand in there," Balzer said.
Wood duck populations were decimated across the continent in the late 1800s due to market hunting and habitat loss. Populations began to recover with the advent of the
The use of nesting boxes dates to the 1930s, and now thousands are in place across the country. They're often built and placed by volunteers like the Staffons.
At Box No. 507 at Canosia on
"I'd say three to four hatched," he told Carol, who logged the information.
Carol has another important role in this project. She's supposed to toss Rich the throw-rope if he happens to break through the ice. That has only happened once, and Staffon got wet only to his thighs.
Each year lately, warm weather has forced the Staffons to make their rounds earlier.
"I used to do this from mid-March to mid-April," Rich said. "This year, I started in early February."
On they went from box to box, Staffon towing the sled across the ice. At each box, he would use his drill to remove screws that secured the roof or a side door and see what was inside. Some boxes held unhatched eggs from last spring. All of the eggs found, on this day, were hooded merganser eggs.
Nobody knows why some eggs did not hatch. Perhaps the hen abandoned the nest. And sometimes, a hen will deposit a clutch of eggs and leave, Staffon said. That's called a dump nest.
At one nest, Staffon found five unhatched eggs and the membranes of eight successfully hatched eggs.
"I'll bet this was two nests," he said. "There's a lot of stuff in here."
He removed the unhatched eggs and added some fresh wood shavings to the base of the nest box.
The ratio of nesting box use in the
"Now, I seldom get a wood duck," he said.
But wood duck populations have increased in recent years, and the daily hunting limit has increased from two to three in the Mississippi Flyway. Wood ducks are often second in the bags of
"We try to get volunteer groups to do it," the
How do ducklings get out of a nesting box?
Ducklings hatched in a nesting box typically remain in the box for only one day,
"The hen is on the ground (or on the water) outside," Staffon said. "They have a call they make. Pretty soon one (duckling) goes up to the hole and - bonsai! They know what to do."
One by one, the rest of the ducklings follow suit.
When ducks nest in tree cavities on land, the ducklings might drop 40 feet or more to the forest floor. Sometimes their falls are broken, in a good way, by the branches of smaller trees below. They often land on leaf litter on the forest floor, which cushions their fall.
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