People passionate about nature

Duck Bows and Real Estate

a "close encounters of the natural kind" story

By Diana McMillan

I have been enjoying watching the antics of a pair of wood ducks that frequent my little section of the Seine River. Believe it or not, they like to sit high in trees eating acorns! Watching them land with their web feet in the canopy some 30 or 40 feet up, is quite a sight.

I have a lovely nuthatch birdhouse nailed to a tree, which was a gift, handmade with care, and just the perfect size for a small nuthatch. At present, ‘my’ little river is swollen nearly three times its normal size. The elm hosting the nuthatch house, normally near the river, now sits within the swirling current. This location would be a perfect place for a duck house if you had installed it sensibly in early March -- which I had not.

One day, a female wood duck tried repeatedly, and to no avail, to squeeze through the small nuthatch house hole. I felt quite badly for raising her hopes. Feeling the pangs of being a most inhospitable host, I made a quick trip to Fort Whyte to rectify the situation. I was able to buy the very last duck bow, although they cautioned me I had likely missed the nesting season.

Not easily deterred, and believing this duck was still looking for real estate, we installed the duck bow onto a nearby tree (on dry land!). Every morning the duck pair would swim by, daintily pecking the water's edge for treats, sometimes flying high to sit in the tall oaks or elms along the river, but never going near the new bow.

One morning, I awoke just before 6 am to hear the ducks down by the water's edge, discussing the news of the day. Once again the female landed on the nuthatch house and attempted to enter. Seemingly discouraged or disgusted, she flew to the water and dabbled along the edge. Then there was a change in her body. It stilled, her head cocked up toward the new bow, and she eyed it suspiciously. Slowly, she waddled up out of the water and onto the bank, peering even more curiously at the bow. Suddenly, she flew up and dove in!! She remained in the bow for about four or five minutes and then flew out.

Several days later the wood ducks returned. I had not seen the pair since the first house inspection and was starting to give up hope for new neighbours. On this warm and very still morning, I awoke to find the pair dabbling at the water's edge, the female inspecting the 'yard', the top of the bow box, the old nuthatch house, a robin perch, and the nearby watery environs. After several tries, much peering from the top of the bow and a lot of head bobbing, the female successfully hopped into the bow! The drake stood guard quietly on a stump at the water's edge while the expectant mother settled into the bow for almost twenty minutes.

Since that day, the pair has returned nearly every morning. Sometimes I have seen the female sitting on the bow peering over the edge and into the hole, sometimes entering the bow, and other times they sit high in the trees overhead. Some days it is just the two of them and other mornings they parade up to my yard in a party of seven.

For the past three days, I have only seen the drake dabbling at the water’s edge. If all goes well, in about 28 days from now, I may have a very big parade down to the water.