Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
I’ve spent much of April crouching in a blackout blind while observing the close range interactions between breeding pairs of wood ducks. Most of my time is spent around small woodland ponds where each wetland serves as headquarters for anywhere from seven to around a dozen mated pairs of woodies. Setting up well before first light, each new morning becomes its own adventure. Today offered a classic example when, at around 7:40 am, a “new pair” suddenly dropped in through the treetops and splashed down on the snag studded pond.
It didn’t take long to see that this pair was something out of the ordinary. While the drake was ‘normal’ in all respects, the hen was bedecked in full blown morph plumage – a bizarre mix of both male and female color patterns. As the pair made themselves to home, the hen’s vocalizations and interaction with other birds were nothing out of the ordinary; and she appeared to be gravid when standing atop a nest box – which she promptly entered and explored for about 6 minutes.
Here’s how I would describe the hen: Her head is a dizzying combination of patterns. Female characteristics include white eye ring, chocolate eye, yellow eye lids and mostly normal bill. Male characteristics include a fairly well developed striped crest and white fingers at base of the chin. Wings, back and tail are that of a hen while sides are ‘off color’ and display poorly developed hackles of a male, vertical white chest stripe, and russet colored chest which lacks the small white arrowheads seen on adult males. I’ve photographed hundreds of wood ducks but have never seen anything like this hen. Another example of why it never pays to sleep in.