Wonderful wood ducks

Photos by Garry Brandenburg — Wood Ducks have returned. In any backwater, pond edge or river/creek you can be assured that Woodies will exploit the area. This tree cavity nesting waterfowl has already sought out places to call home with regard to nesting. It could be a hollow tree near the ground or as high as 50 feet. If the natural cavity is found to be suitable, a nest can be created. Mankind has also made nesting boxes. These recycled metal Freon cans were built by the staff of the Marshall County Conservation Board. By placing them on a metal pole, and away from overhanging tree branches, raccoons are unable to prey on the nest. More than 250 of these metal nest boxes have been placed locally for potential use by wood ducks. Today’s image of a wood duck drake is a taxidermist mount by Mike Stegmann. His waterfowl productions exhibit excellent professional work.

WOOD DUCKS are the featured creature to begin our weekly journey into nature and natural happenings. Spring time sees the return of many birds, wood ducks among them. They like water in small creeks, ponds, the Iowa River, or its backwaters or larger lakes. However, these birds select woodland sites to nest. Hopefully they can find a natural cavity in an already hollow tree. Woodies do not excavate a nest hole. The hollow tree must already exist. Once selected, the mated pair will decide if this future home will serve the purpose of raising a new generation of wood ducks.

Wood duck drakes are very colorful, one of the prettiest of waterfowl to inhabit wetland habitats. Males have iridescent chestnut and green colors, with ornate patterns on nearly every feather. Males and females both show distinctive head feathers and white eye rings surrounding a red eye. Their voice is more of a whistling cry compared to the quack sounds of other duck species.

Woodies like swamps with trees emerging from the water, or nearby forest lands close to water. Nest trees in a city are common also even if that tree is a mile away from a stream. The toes of wood ducks have sharp strong claws to help grasp branches for perching. And the young hatchlings have sharp toenails to assist with climbing out of the nest cavity or nest box the day after hatching. No matter how high in a tree a nest cavity is, those young ducklings must climb up to the entrance hole, and wrangle up the courage to jump to the ground. The female woody is waiting and gently calling to her young to leave the nest. Once assembled on the ground, she will lead her brood to water.

Woody pair selecting has already been made in January, before their flight north to spring and summer nesting grounds. By the time they arrive locally the pair bond is already well set. Now is the time they will select a nest site. Since natural suitable tree cavities can be very hard to find, nest boxes or recycled Freon can nest boxes will be well within the realm of acceptable possibilities. A nest may eventually have 6 to 16 eggs. They may also have a second brood during the year. Incubation takes 28 to 37 days.

Wood ducks eat seeds, fruits, insects and other arthropods. On land acorns will work, and other nuts or grain in farm fields. Plant material is about 80 percent of their diet. The other 20 percent will be insects, caterpillars, isopods and snails. Look for wood ducks this spring while you hike in and around wetlands or woodland backwater sites. Have fun with the woodies.

WILD TURKEYS taken by Marshall County hunters were up to eight as of mid week. That number will undoubtedly grow by the time you read this. As of last Wednesday, statewide 1,717 tom turkeys were reported. That number will also grow by the time you read this. Spring hunting for wild turkeys is a tradition many hunters strive for. The weather is warmer, new green vegetation is emerging, songbirds are singing, frogs are sounding off from water pools, and wildflowers are beginning to color the forest floor. It is a great time to be outside….in the forest…even if all the turkeys one expects to be in the area turn out to be no shows. There is always another day when an early morning sneak into the forest will happen. And listening to turkey toms gobble from the tree tops will be worth the effort.

Turkey statistics are kept by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). You can enter the numbers, if you wish, to register a big tom turkey. Members of the NWTF need the following data — beard length, weight, and spur size. This can be accomplished online. Once approved, your registered bird becomes another pin on a regional NWTF interactive map.

The NWTF was founded in 1973 when the population estimated for North American wild turkeys was about 1.3 million birds. After decades of work, wild turkey numbers are now in the range of 7 million. Good science- based conservation was a key element in that achievement. And the NWTF assists with habitat initiatives using the model Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt. In the last 10 years, they have helped secure more than 4 million acres of land and recruited more than 1.5 million hunters. Access to more than 500,000 acres for hunting was part of those operations during the past decade.

A LONG-TAILED WEASEL was photographed by a local farmer as it appeared briefly beside his tractor tire. It was a fortunate opportunity to get the photo. Long-tailed weasels are a predator of mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, shrews, moles and rabbits. They are fearless predators and voracious killers of small prey. They have a high metabolism rate so they must eat about 1/4th to 1/2 of their body weight daily. They are active all year long. Summer coat color is brown on top with yellow-ish white underbelly fur. In winter they may have an all white fur color. Body length is about 13 to 17 inches including tail. This species is common throughout North America and into Central America.

EARTH NOTES: VOLCANO eruptions this time, on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent, is making the news. The volcano named La Soufriere erupted from its “sleep” from its last purge in 1979. Since that time local residents farmed and lived next to a peaceful mountain. Peaceful volcanoes however may never really be inactive or dormant. Waking up again is a sign that deep under the crust of the earth, molten lava continues to fester, just waiting for enough pressure to rebuild to cause a sleepy mountain to become active. A new system of ash and lava will emerge. And these new disruptions to human life will again stress how the dangers of living on the side of volcano is risky business. Adapting is a full time part of life in such settings.

Worldwide there are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes. Those that are active keep the United States Geologic Survey busy gathering data. Just in the United States there are 169 potentially active volcanoes. The Pacific Northwest has a lot of these beautiful yet potential rebirth volcanoes.

On EARTH DAY this April 22, keep a healthy perspective on the practical and common sense economically viable things within human capabilities as we strive to always and every day be good stewards of all our natural resources. Likewise be very aware of pie-in-the-sky utopian forecasts that are based not on science but on emotion, control and political indoctrination attempts. The earth is resilient. The earth has weathered countless huge variations over geologic time in climate regimes from very hot to very cold, very wet to very dry, and very volcanic to very quiet. And all these natural history events repeat themselves over cycles of immense time frames. So while people are a recent addition to the equation, we are not the controlling factor. Remember that fact of Earth Day.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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