Turtles, Phoebes, and Wood Ducks

I typically start seeing turtle hatchlings in March, those nestlings that have overwintered in the nest. This year it was April that brought out the nestlings. The nestlings were discovered in a variety of locations from the Butterfly House to Into the Mist, and of course, on the path next to the Wetlands. All hatchlings were sliders, either yellow-bellied or possible yellow-bellied x red-eared hybrids.

This little slider is fresh out of the nest (4/19/13).

This is always an exciting time of year, and many kids had an opportunity to see these little herps make their way to the water, some of the turtles getting an assist from the kids.

Ada (daughter of former Butterfly House employee Robin Dale) is obviously excited about seeing this little slider (4/19/13).
The kids, here at the Museum on a school field trip, all pitch in to help the turtle make it to the water safely.

Good luck little turtle!

An Eastern Phoebe has decided to nest on the top of a block wall in one of the vending areas here at the Museum. This area is quite jammed with loud and excited kids during much of an average weekday morning. The bird persists and doesn’t seems too flustered by all of the noise and shuffling back and forth of the kids as they enter and exit the restrooms or pound on the soda machines.

This phoebe has most of the day to itself. It’s the mornings that are the most stressful with school groups coming and going (4/20/13).
Four eggs can be seen next to the duck (4/27/13).

About three weeks ago (4/11/13) I saw a wood duck fly out of one of our duck nest boxes. It was the end of the day and the bird flew off into the dense willows on the far side of the Wetlands. This past weekend I, Ranger Kristin, and Animal Keeper Jill launched the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a flat bottomed aluminum boat, into the water to have a peek inside the nest box.

I taped an iPhone to a long pole, bent at the tip to give the proper angle, and we set sail for the nest box. The camera, on video and activated as we approached the nest box, was carefully aimed at the entrance hole. A quick few seconds in the box was all we needed.

The images are less than perfect but I could see at least eight eggs in one view, but I estimate that there are a dozen. Only time will tell what emerges from the nest box, one of two nest boxes located here in our Wetlands.

The nest boxes were installed in the Wetlands in January of 2011 for the purpose of tempting the Hooded Mergansers that winter here each year to nest, to raise a family right here in our Wetland. Both Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers will utilize nest boxes as both are cavity nesters. This is the first year that there has been any activity in the boxes.

Most of our mergansers departed in March with a few non-breeders lingering into the first weeks of April. Wood ducks are year round residents. They come in to the Wetlands in the evening, but since no one is here after 6 PM, except for security personnel, the birds go unseen, they have it all to themselves.

I can see what looks like at least eight eggs in this shot (4/27/13).

When I saw the female leave the nest box those three weeks ago I didn’t know whether she was simply inspecting the box or had started a brood. There’s only one way to tell what was going on inside the box, have a look.

The nest box opens from the front so I thought it wise to go in through the entrance hole, an iPhone seemed the best way to do that. The photos on the right are the results of that effort.

But as I said earlier, only time will tell what hatches from this nest. Incubation varies but is somewhere in the area of thirty days. As I don’t know when incubation began there’s no way to tell when it will end, when the birds will hatch.

Wood ducks, as all ducks, are precocial, their young are hatched ready for action. They are completely covered with down, their eyes are open, they don’t need to be fed by the parents, and although they won’t be able to fly for two months or so after hatching, they can walk and swim.

One of our two wood duck nest boxes.

About a day after they hatch the female will coax them out of the nest box while she floats in the water below. The young ducks will climb up to the entrance hole (there’s netting inside the box to help them do that), look around a bit at their new world and launch themselves into the air.

Wood ducklings are light and fluffy. Terminal velocity is fairly low with such light creatures so the impact of hitting the water is minimal. Our nest boxes are both eight to ten feet above the water, these birds can survive leaps from much greater heights. I’d wager that they could survive a leap from just about any height due to their weight and general softness and flexibilty, but I don’t know that for sure. Even so, there are far greater problems that will face them if and when they make it to the water, but we’ll discuss that another time.

For now, good luck to the turtles, phoebes, wood ducks, and all of the other creatures out there as they attempt to raise their families. It’d be a less interesting world without them.



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