Spotlight on Wood Ducks - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Spotlight on Wood Ducks

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.


Late Nesters - Wood Ducks - 6-1-2018


Bill’s Pond — June 1, 2018:  Although serious photographers hate to admit it, many of their favorite wildlife shots have absolutely nothing to do with skill but are the result of completely unplanned and uncontrolled circumstance otherwise known as “being in the right place at the right time”.  The photo above is my latest example.

Hoping to photograph wood ducks, I arrived at Bill’s Pond before daylight and popped up a portable blind.     Bill’s Pond is a small wetland surrounded by a mature oak timber.  Even though it’s late in the season, I figured at least some birds would still be active.  The hunch paid off; three noisy pairs of wood ducks had landed on the pond by the time it was light enough to vaguely see their shapes.  The pairs’ interactions and spirited vocalizations hinted that all three hens were still in “nesting mode” – most likely birds that had lost first attempts to squirrels, woodpeckers, or raccoons.  As daylight increased, all three pairs left the water again to search for cavities in the adjacent woodland.  Forty-five minutes later, two of the pairs returned.  Although the scene was still mostly shaded, the sun was getting high enough that an occasional spot of light was getting through the canopy – like the one suddenly illuminating a small portion of a nearby loafing log.  As one of the pairs swam past, the hen suddenly decided to take a perch on the log.  A second later, the drake jumped to her side.  Wood ducks are our most persistent renesters, and one quick glance was all it took to see that the hen was heavy with eggs – an obvious victim of previous nest loss.  

Highlighted in the early light, the birds seemed to glow as they basked in the spotlight; while the background remained dark and undistracting.  It was the only spot on the wetland where the shot could have occurred and my blind was situated in perfect position to take advantage of the natural studio lighting.

There was suddenly a loud ‘screeching’ as the third pair of woodies announced their return to the pond.  I snapped the attached photo as the loafing drake elevated his crest to acknowledge their arrival. 

The studio lighting effect only lasted for a couple of minutes.  The sun continued its journey and the log was soon shaded again.  The wood ducks slipped back into the water where the hen continued to eagerly pursue aquatic insects. 

When compared to other waterfowl, nesting wood ducks have a rather complex social structure, and I never get tired of observing them in their natural habitats.  In all creation, few bird species are more interesting, unique in behavior or stunningly beautiful.

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