Monday, May 23, 2011

First Step

Wood Ducks, those snazzy looking ducks with techni-color faces, were almost lost as a result of habitat destruction, liberal hunting laws, and market hunting.  As a not-so-smart cavity nester, it was discovered that they will nest in a box tacked to the side of a tree just as much as they may nest in a hole in the treetrunk.  With that knowledge, wood duck boxes are a frequent site in marshes, swamps, and rivers just about everywhere.  If you have boxes, Wood Ducks shouldn't be too far off.

So, as you might expect, Wood Ducks should be found in wood duck boxes, right?

Well, not always....

Following up on Don's report from weeks ago, I always check this particular box when I drive past it.  

His original report was basically  like this " Hey. Check the box at "so-and-so". I had a Screech Owl sunning itself in there." (I'm not telling you the location as I don't want the little fella being bothered too much...)

So yesterday, after some very casual local birding and photography, I checked what will always be known as "Don's Box" for the umpteenth time.  This time, however, I had the bird! It is a nestling!  

So, after I confirmed the little guy/gal was in the hole, I pulled over and got my scope out to get a better view. Hidden by the vegetation, I watched the bird as it learned its new surroundings.  With those wide, yellow eyes, it was looking everywhere.  It looked up.  Down.  Left.  Down. Right.  Down.  Back and forth. Down.  Down again. Up.  At me.   Down.  The focus of its world was clearly not what lay "out there", but what lay below....

As a cavity nester like a Wood Duck, Screech Owls can apparently take to a fake hole just as much as a real one. But now it gets interesting.  When the ducklings are ready for the big cruel world, they simply jump out and swim away.  

Generally speaking, owls don't swim (while they can float and flop, I would not call them swimming birds at all).  Before you start calling the parents "stupid", keep in mind this canal was frozen when mom laid the eggs (early to mid-March) so this situation probably did not seem so precarious two months ago.  

Now? Well, there is no telling what will happen.  3-5 eggs are usually laid, so assuming this nest is normal, there could be 2-4 siblings out there. But where? Without checking the box, there is no way to tell if this is the oldest sibling (with the others still in there) or if this is the last sibling (all the others already left). If it is the latter, did the other siblings flop and swim to shore or did they manage to fly to the shoreline a few yards away?  Or, for all we know, the others did flop and swim and made a Snapping Turtle reeeeealllly happy.  

I would like to think the little guy is going to make it to shore. From there, it will be still be fed by mom and dad for a few more days, or more likely, weeks.  After that, they will get tired of it and it will have to start fending for himself.  Songbirds, bats, mice, and shrews are just some of the prey items on the long list of foods.   

If it is a boy, it will likely disperse and look for a territory by the next breeding season (next year).  It will likely find a mate as Eastern Screech Owls are far more common than most people realize.  For the most part, he will be a faithful little guy to the same female year after year.  But he may take a page out of the Arnold Schwarzenegger playbook and have a mistress on the side.  It is rare, but it happens.  

All the while, as a small  predator, he needs to be on the lookout for just about anything bigger.  Great Horned Owls, Long-eared Owls, Mink, and Skunk are just a thing that call Screech Owls "delicious".  Don't rule out house cats or cars bumpers, either.

Ultimately,  we can't be sure what will happen. All of that is waaaay down the road.  One step at a time, right?

He had better watch out. That first one could be a doozy..

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